Genre Borrowing and Political Message in The Host
Released in July 2006, Bong Joon-ho’s The Host garnered both widespread popularity as the highest grossing South Korean film ever released in Korea. It was also screening at the Cannes, New York, and Toronto film festivals and seen by more than a quarter of the Korean population. The Host embodies political messages both political conditions inside Korea and its relationship with United States. Bong shows an ambivalent relationship between South Korea and United States by borrowing Hollywood genre in his films. The Host uses genre that strongly identified with Hollywood, which is blockbuster plot and monster movie. But Bong does not simply copy Hollywood. This movie is a rare combination of blockbuster plot and political commentary. Bong appropriates and reworks the Hollywood genre convention to criticize South Korean social and deliver political issues. The Host starts with a monster rising out of the Han River and attacking Seoul, South Korea. A gigantic mutant creature emerges from the Han River, attacks dozens of bystanders, and kidnaps Park Hyun-seo, the daughter of the film’s protagonist, Park Gang-du. The monster itself is a product of an environmental mishap at U.S military base, invites an easy reading as a figure for the United States.1 Bong shakes up the genre by opening with his monster in full view. The Host focuses on Park family. This socially and economically marginal family consists of Gang-du, Hyun-seo, Hee-bong, Nam-joo, and Nam-il. Hee-bong is a Hyun-seo’s grandfather who runs a snack bar on the banks of the River Han, along with his slow-witted eldest son, Gang-du; Gang-du's young beloved daughter, Hyun-seo; archery champion daughter Nam-joo; and unemployed, shirker son, Nam-il. After the monster’s attack, entire of the Park family sets out to locate the beast and bring their little girl back home safely. The beginning of the film shows Korea’s relationship with United States. Some of the film’s scenes express that American commanding them to take some outrageous actions. The monster lives because an American mortician ordering Mr. Kim, his Korean underling to dump bottles of formaldehyde to Han River. Another example is in a hospital scene, a sadistic American doctor orders Korean doctors to drill into Gang-du’s brain. These scenes tell that the troubles came up because of the Korean themselves, not the American boss. The Host, the English title, shows that Korea has let itself become a “host” to a parasitic America (Klein 890). However, the ending of The Host inverts this hierarchy of American dominance and Korean submission. The Host ends with a scene where there is a TV broadcast news report about “misinformation” from U.S, and the boy told Gang-du that there is nothing good on, then Gang-du turn the TV off with his foot. They choose to focus on eating, which is Korean foods here, and shut out things American. The Host made with many ambivalent relationships to Hollywood. As Bong said, “The monster genre, excluding the Godzilla series from Japan, is in itself quite American.”1 Bong also follows many Hollywood’s visual and narrative conventions of the post classical monster film. It is beginning with the creature’s shockingly sudden appearances, the innocent in danger scene, and then proceeding through the acts of unexpected bravery from some people. Bong also made this film with slapsticks and black comedies, which are another monster movie convention in Hollywood. Although Bong uses many Hollywood styles in The Host, he put scene or climax that would be unthinkable in a mainstream Hollywood film. Hollywood films have happier ending, but in The Host, Bong puts a heart-breaking loss of Hyun-seo, the beloved child of Park family. The film continues to open up a space for Korean realities. It can be seen in the film’s climax, when Gang-du, Nam-il, and Nam-ju, along with a stray homeless man, launch their final attack on the monster. In this film’s...
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