Tag Archives: Byung-woo Lee

The Host (2006, Bong Joon-ho)

If the original Godzilla (the Japanese version, before Raymond Burr) was about the United States as a nuclear power, The Host is a metaphor for the United States as a terrorist state. Or maybe it’s not a metaphor. It’s just about a situation involving Americans and they act with complete disregard for the safety of people and then go and terrorize them for no reason… Yeah, a metaphor suggests it’s coy. The Host is very straightforward in its portrayal of the United States and its foreign policy, which makes the film’s upcoming U.S. release a mystery to me. It’s a release for critics mostly, some way to get knowledge of Korean films out there. I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.

But the politics aren’t the center of The Host, they’re just reality. People who’d seen it at festivals touted it online as the superior giant monster movie, but that blurb is a bit of a misnomer. While the film does feature a giant (well, not too giant, about the size of a bus) monster, it’s not really a giant monster movie because it doesn’t follow the rules. With the exception of that original Godzilla, these films tend to fetishize the monster, because it’s the special effects feat. This fetishization goes back to the 1925 Lost World, because the monster was the deal. The films are about seeing what the monster will do. Deviations from this norm are usually considered failures (and sometimes, to be fair, are failures). The Host isn’t about what the monster’s going to do–seeing that exciting special effect–but about the effect of the monster. The Host is one of the most sensitive films I’ve seen–probably the most sensitive Korean film I’ve seen. It’s almost indescribably affecting. From maybe thirty minutes in, there’s one thing going on and the film drags you through it.

I’ve seen director Bong’s other big film, Memories of Murder, and while it’s a good film, The Host is far beyond my expectations. As a director, Bong is quiet and direct. He’s delicate, actually. The Host is a delicate film, not because it might break, but because it might break you. At times it’s a father-son film, a brother film, a father-daughter film, a comedy, an action film, but it mixes all these elements without detriment, because they’re the traditional terms for things like what is going on in The Host. It’s its own film, so I’m sort of handicapped by the terminology. Korean films tend to defy easy genre assignment (my favorite new genre from Korean films, however, will always be the sexual harassment comedy) and, while The Host is no different in that respect, it takes it to a new level. It is, as I said before, indescribable (in a very, very good way).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; written by Bong, Baek Chul-hyun and Ha Won-jun; director of photography, Kim Hyung-ku; edited by Kim Seon Min; music by Lee Byung-woo; production designer, Ryu Seong-hie; produced by Choi Yong-bae; released by Showbox.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Kang-du), Byeon Hie-bong (Hie-bong), Park Hae-il (Nam-il), Bae Du-na (Nam-ju) and Ko Ah-sung (Hyun-seo).


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Rules of Dating (2005, Han Jae-rim)

Rules of Dating opens with an incredibly sexist and funny scene. The film establishes itself as a sexual harassment comedy with that opening scene–it doesn’t keep that genre long (though I think it’s the first time I ever thought of calling a film a sexual harassment comedy), but that opening also has quick edits, jump cuts, and lots of Steadicam one and two shots, giving it the neo-cinema verite look. It’s off-putting, while not poorly done, because the film can never decide how seriously it wants to be taken….

Soon, it becomes a drama and it stays a drama for most of the remainder, veering occasionally into romance but never too much. In the end–before the emotionally invalidating epilogue–the film comfortably assumes a sexual harassment drama classification. After sitting through the first act, before the romance between the harasser and victim, this conclusion is somewhat welcome. It’s unexpected surprise, because Rules of Dating is particularly deep. The male “protagonist” goes from being a sleaze to being a romantic hero. The female lead, played by Kang Hye-jeong is excellent (continuing the Korean tradition of actresses playing characters older than they are, something America hasn’t got much apparent interest in doing). The guy’s all right. As the comedic sleaze and the romantic hero, he’s good, but when he’s being the sleazy sleaze and the drama guy, not so good. Both these characters have significant others who, toward the end–after the leads spend ninety minutes either cheating on or thinking about cheating on them with no guilt–are revealed to be rather shitty people, simplifying the audience’s emotions.

In the end, Rules of Dating has the opportunity to be incredibly complex, then flushes all down the toilet to provide a happy ending. This happy ending, of course, was not in the film’s “contract” with the viewer. After the first fifteen or so minutes, after the first time the guy tries to force himself on the woman, any happy ending expectation disappeared. Since it was well-acted (enough) and the direction was nice–I think it’s the first Korean Panavision film I’ve seen and the director knew how to use the wide frame–I was incredibly hopeful. But… there were about seven minutes and it’s hard to crap something up in seven minutes, but managed to do it. Without a surprise ending even. Just a dumb one.

For a movie about teachers, there were no scenes in a classroom for ninety minutes, maybe a hundred. That omission should have told me more about how Rules of Dating was going to turn out than it did.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Han Jae-rim; written by Han and Go Yun-hui; director of photography, Park Yong-su; music by Lee Byung-woo; produced by Cha Seoung-Jae; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Park Hae-il (Yoo-rim) and Kang Hye-jeong (Hong).