Reviewed by Tim Wong

Part way into The Host, when a grieving Nam-il lands a dropkick on his dofus-of-a-brother Gang-du, it is clear that we are watching a Bong Joon-ho movie. As a strategically placed signpost – a rather sly directive to Bong’s serial killer subversion Memories of Murder (where said wrestling move was the retaliation of choice) – it completes a brief but remarkable series of events: the Park family, having just witnessed a giant mutant tadpole devour their beloved Hyun-seo, arrive at a makeshift shrine, mourn her apparent death, before collapsing to the floor in a hilarious seizure of blubbering tears and despair. How Bong achieves such a dramatic and invisible tonal shift – from the depths of genuine pathos, to an outbreak of well-timed comedy, and all within the space of 24 frames – is surely alchemy, and is something to behold.

Essentially a family drama where upheaval is triggered through the film’s titular river creature (dastardly, introduced in all its carnivorous glory within the first 10 minutes), the Parks riposte is to hunt down this marauding beast, a constantly thrilling pursuit as Bong hinges their destiny on moments of precarious human fallibility: the misfiring of a shotgun, or the fumbling of a Molotov Cocktail (only for the always terrific Bae Doona, wielding a bow and arrow in the spirit of Legolas, to save the day). The Host is riddled with such epileptic twists, dispatched like landmines throughout its alleged monster movie shell; a misnomer, given Bong surfs every subgenre under the sun, from political allegory, to military conspiracy, to disease hysteria, to invasion pastiche. His previous films are rippled with a similar, if sometimes erratic current of genre tonality; a subversive undertow that may initially come across as reckless and uneven, but upon further viewing, confirms this latest outing as the perfect blockbuster. The box-office precession to Spider-Man 3 this month has been as foreseeable as the film is predictable. Constantly surprising, The Host is your antidote to such a noxious viral strain.

» Bong Joon-ho | South Korea | 2006 | In Theatres Now