Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gwoemul (The Host)

Last night bf and I went to see "The Host". I had heard nothing specific about this film, only that it was "great" and won some accolades at Cannes last year. Saw the trailer during previews when we went to see "Lives of Others", and it looked enjoyable, if difficult to place in a genre.

The toughest part of watching the film was how it moved through the genres of Horror/Comedy/Family Dramedy - it was a funny film with scary parts and a great big freaky monster (which looked amazing throughout the film but disappointed at the end), and some really cool family stuff in it as well. But the mood shifts were not always welcome, and the pacing felt a bit clunky in parts when the tension wasn't kept up.

Family, I've noticed, is a big part of the horror from Asia that I've been watching the past couple of years. Considering it, I see it as a part of non-Asian horror as well (and acknowledge non-family plots in other films I've seen), but there is a pretty big strain of family-related films. Oh, but I realize that it's mostly Mother and Child films... Just off the top of my head (the films I can remember without hurting myself or looking back at blog entries): The Ring (one and two), The Grudge, Dark Water, The Red Shoes - all big mother and child films, but not "family" per se. There is a social and familial disconnect in those films.

The family in The Host is concocted for both maximum comedy and pathos. Eldest brother is a dimwitted single father (beach bum couture and a nearly-grown-out bleach job perfect the character) to the much loved only grand-daughter/niece in the family.

Youngest brother is an unemployed college grad (the first in the family) who is jaded, bitter, and annoying. Youngest sister is a national archery contender, but foiled by her sloth-like speed. Father runs a food stand along the river, and harbours secret regrets which direct his actions today. In more than a few instances, I suspected a scene was a send up of contemporary/traditional Korean culture, or a commentary on the recent politics in South Korea, but I just don't know enough about the culture or recent history to know if I was "getting it" or not.

The film begins with a scene foreshadowing the disturbance to come, and promises to be a pretty standard grim horror flick - a promise which is definitely not fulfilled.

On one hand I was a bit disappointed at this - I could have used a taut, well paced horror flick last night to wind me up. On the other had, I really enjoyed the slap-stick-ness of the film and fell hard for the heartwarming family storyline.

[In a way I needed to watch this movie because of an incident over the weekend. It boils down to this: while watching the god awful "Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift" on the new HD TV at bf's place, his roomie started telling me (during a scene with some bad guys) how he didn't find Asians "intimidating", or "scary", because they were "so small" among other things. I was, as I am wont to be in these situations, at a complete loss for words. And I was, as I am wont to be in these situations, pretty worried that if I *did* attempt to speak, I would say something really nasty or at least phrase whatever I did say poorly. So I didn't say anything. As my complete silence fell in the midst of an animated conversation, it was probably apparent that I was not in approval or agreement of his comments. I could put a the disclaimer many would make that I don't think he *intended* to offend - I do think he was just saying what he thought - but his intent isn't the point. What seems terribly difficult to explain is actually really simple: if you see a group of people as varied as "Asians" as an easily dismissed bunch of people, you are not seeing them as PEOPLE. I see and hear this so often - that "they" are not as "us" and therefore are easily dismissed. Most of the time I can ignore it, but not when it comes up and slaps me in the face.]

Sitting in the theater last night it felt good to see Korean people and culture through a (fairly) non-self conscious lens. I had a similar thought when bf and I watched "The Red Shoes", more specifically about how nice it was to watch a film with Asian women in it who weren't being objectified as "China dolls" or "Geishas", or any of the more 'subtle' frames (brave iconoclast/cowering wife or daughter/cold manipulative beauty) we see.

I had a lot of fun with this film, despite its suffering from a slight identity crisis. I can recommend it, but you have to be aware that it is not a non-stop fright fest (in fact, although I let myself get involved, it's not all that scary).

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