Hitchcock: I'm going to make birds terrifying.
Studio: Excuse me?
Hitchcock: I said I'm going to make everyone fear birds.
Studio: You mean the cute birds I feed in the park with bread crumbs?
Hitchcock: The same. People will fear birds because the birds will kill hundreds of people.
Studio: Really? So what is it that causes these birds to be deadly?
Hitchcock: Doesn't matter.
Studio: So you're going to make a movie where suddenly birds everywhere become deadly and that's supposed to be scary.
Studio: I'm sorry I can't stop laughing.
Of course it didn't go down like that. Hitchock could make a marshmallow seem scary, not to mention he had proven himself ten times over by the time he made The Birds. But all that aside, Hitchcock delivered. We all became scared of birds. And it required no explanation. One day birds became enemies of people. And it was scary.
History has repeated itself with the Korean movie The Host. Director Joon-ho Bong has made a tadpole scary. Granted it's a tadpole 100 times it's normal size, but still it's scary. Most importantly, it doesn't seem stupid that a giant tadpole is chasing people down the streets in Soeul, Korea. That's because Bong does a fantastic job with his material. He makes it plausable. The movie opens with an American doctor ordering a Korean assistant to dump several bottles of formaldahide into the sink, thus polluting the Han river. So far everything is true. In 2000, an American working for the military had ordered a large quantity of formaldahyde to be disposed into the sewer systems leading into the Han river.
What happens after that is stuff for the movies. A tadpole grows to almost Godzilla size from the polluted water and terrorizes the city. Simple enough. And the movie would fall short if that was all it was about. But the writing works a bit harder and the scenes are framed a bit better and the acting is a bit better. Where all traditional monster movies fail, this one succeeds and exceeds.
The story surrounds a dysfunctional family with a failing father Gang-du at the center. He's a man-child who accepts no responsibility. He's not much but what he is is a father who loves his daughter Hyun-Seo very much. But here's the problem, Tadzilla comes and kidnaps Hyun Seo making Gang-du more of a man than he ever would have become helping his father run the snack shop along the Han river. The movie then follows Gang-du, his father and brother and sister as they try to rescue Hyun-Seo.
The great scene and the one that sets the table for higher expectations is the reveal of the monster. Gang-du witnesses a group of people gathered at the edge of the Han river. They're looking at something that is hanging under the bridge. It looks like a large bag. Is it something leftover from a construction crew? And then it moves and unfolds and drops into the water. And you see it initially from such a distant that you don't know what it is any more than the characters from the movie. But it floats over to the group and hangs like a giant dark blob under the water. At first it's playful as the on-lookers toss different food for its long tongue to snag from the surface. But then it disappears. As the crowd disperses, Gang-du looks down the river and sees something he can't believe. A gigantic tadpole running alongside the river, killing everyone in its path.
Again, this is all good so far. And if the director had decided to make the rest of the movie about Tadzilla terrorizing everyone it would have saved a place right next to all the Godzilla movies like it before. But it doesn't. An American military man comes in contact with the monster and begins to grow bumps on his skin. This causes a terror throughout Soeul that is greater than the monster. It is thought that the monster is a host of a SARS-like virus that threatens everyone.
Of course, this involves the government as it tries to quarantine everyone who might have come in contact with the monster. And it seems that the government is more concerned with the virus which may or may not actually exist than it is with the monster itself. This provides a conflict for Gang-du as he tries to allude the government while trying to save his daughter.
The fear of the SARS-like virus escalates throughout the movie to the point where the government says it is going to let loose Yellow Agent, a powder that will in effect kill the monster and do some serious damage to anyone within a 100 mile radius. This of course elevates the fear even more and drums up protests throughout Soeul.
I won't give away the ending which certainly doesn't disappoint, but I will say this. The evolution of film or the revolution of it doesn't just begin or end with the U.S. With movies like Oldboy, The Host and a I'm sure a slew of other movies that have yet to catch my eye, Korea has proven itself a contender in modern movie making.