The Host BRD
(Bong Joon-Ho - 2006)
Review by Leonard Norwitz
Studio: Chungeorahm Film (Korea) / Magnolia Home Entertainment (USA)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Feature film: 1080p
Korean & English: Uncompressed 5.1 PCM (16-Bit/4.6Mbps)
Korean & English: DTS-HD 5.1 Surround (1.5 Mbps)
Korean & English: DD 5.1 Surround (448 kbps)
English SDH, English and Spanish
• Commentary with Director Boon Joon-Ho
• Making-of Documentary with the Director
• Deleted Scenes
• Cast & Crew Interviews
• Gag Reel
• Korean Theatrical Trailer in SD
• Trailers for Magnolia Blu-ray releases in HD
Standard Blu-ray case.
Release Date: July 24, 2007
The Host is one wild and crazy movie. The first fifteen minutes crosses more genres in less time than an entire Benny Hill season. It is, by turns, a low comedy, a horror movie in the grand 1950s tradition, a scary film in the Alien and Jaws tradition, a parody of American authoritarianism in one moment and absurd heroism in another, and a psychologically sympathetic study of a dysfunctional family. All this peppered by some pretty clever special effects, one cool monster, and one of the scariest rivers you'll ever see want to keep your distance from.
I want to single out the performance of one of Korea's most gifted actors: Song Kang-Ho. Do yourself a favor and catch this amazing actor give new meaning to the term "nuance" in such films as the quirky Memories of Murder (also directed by Boon Joon-Ho, where he plays an incompetent homicide detective in a rural town's first encounter with a serial killer), the ground-breaking JSA: Joint Security Area (where he plays a North Korean soldier at a DMZ guard station who fraternizes with his South Korean counterpart), the hyper-intense Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, (where Song plays a businessman whose daughter is kidnapped), and the irrepressible Foul King (where he is a wannabe wrestler, and does all his own stunts.) In The Host (SD edition available HERE) Song plays the excruciatingly immature father of the girl who is carried off by the monster. What is amazing that Song can generate the level of sympathy that he does despite, rather than because of, his intellectual limitations. Ko A-Sung as the girl is a real heartbreaker. There is an agonizingly suspenseful stand-off between her and the creature where you may forget to breathe.
We all know that moment in every horror movie where some ready-to-eat teenager goes up a stair they shouldn't, or open a door they shouldn't. The audience reaction is as much fun as watching the fate of the poor dumb kluck who apparently has never seen a horror movie or is deaf to the film score that gives ample warning to his or her future. In The Host it's hard to know who's stupider or the more brazen: the American lab boss who insists on his assistant dumping gallons of formaldehyde into Seoul's Han river, the doctors and government agents who maintain there is a dangerous virus at play when they know otherwise, or just about everyone else. Yet the narrative's emotional roller coaster invites us to laugh out loud in one moment, fear for our lives in another, and weep for the loss of a loved one in yet another. On top of that, we are also asked to accept that is it the dysfunctional Park family that becomes the heroes of this relentlessly entertaining movie – and we really aren't all that surprised. In fact, it's the only way in or out of this deliciously spicy kimchi.
The Score Card
The Movie : 9
A laboratory dumps dangerous chemicals into a major river and, without further ado, we are introduced to the creature that it spawns as it scurries about chewing random animate bits of scenery. The populace is properly frightened, though doesn't keep them from getting closer than they should to see what it's up to. The government reacts promptly, but inappropriately. The media does their part to inform, while making matters worse. Unexpected heroes take matters into their own hands while being pursued by authorities who believe they are even more dangerous than the monster. It all sounds pretty familiar – both as a movie plot and as a reflection of our times. But the telling of it is refreshingly and creatively told.
Image : 9.5 (8.5/10)
The score in parentheses represents: first, a value for the image in absolute terms; and, second, how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre. The score of 9.5 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs.
The Host is a serious benchmark contender for best high definition transfer to date – and this from a studio you may never even have heard of. Yes, there is a tendency (which is putting it mildly) for light areas to be overexposed – but that's a given in much of Korean film and their TV series. I repeat: this is not a mistake in the transfer process. There is also some film grain in the low light level shots. But, again, this is as it should be. The colors are vivid, the blacks are, well, black, and the resolution is riveting. If it's there, you'll see it. The only nit to pick, is that the live action-to-monster integration can be perceived once in while as it galoomphs across the quay - if you look real hard – but do you really want to be doing that!
The image quality on the R3 KD Media was pretty darn good for an SD, and the Blu-ray appears to be struck from the same source and looks better in all the ways we have come to expect. No question about upgrade here.
Audio & Music : 9
Knocks your socks off. I have only a dynamic 2-channel at home, but the music and effects tracks on this movie are right up there with your other bigass thrillers. On the other hand, while the translation and timing of the lip sync of the English dub is just fine, it makes no acoustic or muscular sense. The dub feels like it was recorded without concern for the specific scene locations. Of course, The Host is no more or less culpable than most every other dubbed film (and is why I have so much trouble with Fellini-era Italian films in their original language.) And it's not just that the dub doesn't feel right, the surrogate actors simply aren't cast correctly. All the principles, especially the grandfather, are far too young, and the father isn't nearly as simple-minded as he should be. Most of the actors sound like they're talking with their teeth clenched. More important, none of them convey the innocence or emotional directness that the Koreans have. It's something we're just not very comfortable with, even less so when we're speaking for another person. Listen to one of the Korean audio tracks only.
Empathy : 9
Lots of it (in Korean) - right down to those same socks.
Operations : 8
The menu is traightforward, simple, easy to understand. Everything works. The thumbnails didn't always capture the essence of the corresponding scene – chapter titles would have been nice.
Extras : 7There are a number of items (much of them offering more details about the creature) left out from the R1 2-disc SD Collector's Edition, and from the R3 3-disc edition from KD Media (whose extra features aren't subtitled). That said there is still plenty to go around. All of the docu-featurettes are in acceptable SD. It is nice to have Bong Joon-Ho's commentary in English, however. Boon (or, rather, we), are helped in this by the director's English friend, Tony Rayns. A nice idea, it turned out. It was as surprising as it was reassuring to learn that the chemical dumping scene has its basis in a real and locally highly publicized incident from only a few years ago and that the locations, including the creature's lair in the sewer, are real locations, rather than sets or computer generated. I recommend watching the ten minute Making-Of featurette before listening to the running commentary, as the latter fleshes out a lot of what is outlined in the shorter piece, and seeing the various back-of-camera first gives us a nice visual peg to connect with in the commentary.