The Host's main attraction is a mutant carnivore that looks like a giant chunk of phlegm hawked from the maw of our despoiled Earth. This killer tadpole can swim like a fish, scuttle like an insect and run like a Spielberg raptor. Even more than the 1933 King Kong, Bong's creature is a surreal entity with no fixed size. As the materialization of dread, this nameless monster is harder to pin down than the radioactive, fire-breathing Godzilla.
Bong's allegory is deliberately free-floating. Still, that the thing has its origins in American stupidity and hubris is made clear in The Host's prologue, set in a morgue on a U.S. Army base. Offended by the dust on some unused bottles of formaldehyde, an overbearing American officer orders a hapless lab technician to dump gallons of toxic chemicals down the drain and into the Han River. A few years pass, and two fishermen spot something gross swimming in the murk. Cut to a wacky, dysfunctional family that operates a riverside fast-food stand.
The Park clan consists of an elderly patriarch and his two deadbeat sons one a slob, the other a drunk and a daughter who is a championship archer with an unfortunate psychological hitch. The slob, busy dishing out fried squid, notices that picnickers by the river are transfixed by something suspended beneath the bridge.
The "It" falls into the water, swims over and bounds ashore. Establishing a galumphing tone of carnivalesque terror, the resulting picnic panic is a comic replay of 9/11. The thing dives back into the river with the slob's 11-year-old daughter, Hyun-seo, in its fishy clutches. From then on, it's personal. Oh, and the creature carries a mysterious virus. But is it the creature or South Korea who is really the host?
From the perspective of the Parks, the monster comes to embody whatever irrational forces oppress them. The authorities' main concern is subduing the "contaminated" family, who, having received a cell phone call from Hyun-seo, are desperate to escape. Discovering that the creature is warehousing its victims, the Parks troll the Han for their lost child. Meanwhile, the authorities are after the virus.
The Host has an engaging refusal to take itself seriously it's no War of the Worlds, yet, however funny, it is hardly camp. The emotions that The Host churns up, regarding idiot authority and poisonous catastrophe, are too raw and too close to disgust. Is revulsion a form of revolt? Bong's disaster farce ends with a long shot of the frozen Han. There's the sense of something new brewing in the sludge namely his movie.