The Host – Background and Scene Analysis

Directed by Bong Joon-ho, The Host was released in South Korea in July of 2006 with its opening weekend making about 17.2 million dollars. It was later released in America in March of 2007, in which it was also well received. By the end of its run, the film had made about 89 million dollars at the box office. The film was distributed by Showbox Entertainment in Sount Korea and by Magnolia Magnet in America. Interestingly, the film was well received in North Korea as well because of the film’s anti-American undertones.

The film begins with an American military doctor and a South Korean assistant in a darkly lit lab. The American orders the assistant to dump a large number of bottles of formaldehyde down the drain, despite the protests of the assistant who states that it would cause ecological damage to the Han River in Seoul. A mutant fish is later discovered by fishermen who think nothing of it. The movie then skips to six years later and introduces some of the main characters of the film, the Park family. The family, which can be identified as being part of the lowest class in society, consists of Gang-du, his daughter Hyun-seo, and his father Hee-bong. They run a small snack shop near the Han River which soon becomes the site of an attack by mutant monster that grown to be as large as a school bus. During the chaos, Hyun-seo is taken by the monster and the rest of the Park family is brought to a safe building. At the building Gang-du and his father meet up with his brother, Nam-il, and his sister, Nam-joo. The family is initially very distant with each other, but they later unite in the face of the sadness of losing Hyun-seo. The government then explains that the monster also released a virus and that the Park family may be infected. The movie focuses on the Park family as they try to find the monster and save Hyun-seo as well as on the counter-measures that the South Korean government and American military develop to combat the monster.

American poster for the film
American poster for the film

Many of the elements in The Host are inspired by actual events, ranging from the design of the monster to some of the plot points. The origins of the monster were inspired by a real event that occurred in 2000 in which an American official named Albert Macfarland ordered the dumping of 470 bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River (Yang). While the South Korean government tried to prosecute him, the US government refused to hand him over into custody, enraging many South Koreans. He was eventually found guilty, but has yet to serve any sentence. The appearance of the monster was also drawn from an actual event. Its four-legged design and body shape were derived from a mutant S-shaped fish that was found in the Han River that Joon-ho read about in the newspaper (Sedia). Finally, the gas called Agent Yellow that is used by the military in the film to harm the monster is a reference to Agent Orange, a pesticide mixture that was used during the Vietnam War.

An important scene in The Host that both ties together the characters in the film and the overall themes is the scene toward the end of the movie during which the substance called Agent Yellow is released to kill the monster. In the scene, there is a large group of protestors that are against the release of Agent Yellow by the government. In the film, the government is heavily influenced by the American military, which has already shown a disregard for the health of the Korean people when they poured formaldehyde into the Han River. The main characters of the film all reunite at the protest site, but Agent Yellow is released, harming both people and the monster alike. It doesn’t kill the monster, however, instead leaving it to Gang-du, Nam-il, and Nam-joo to finally finish off the creature together and try to rescue Hyun-seo.

An image of the monster
An image of the monster

This scene shows how the multiple layers of the film come together to unite the themes of The Host. On one level, there is the American military involvement in Korea. The scene in which the Koreans are protesting the release of Agent Yellow can be seen as a metaphor for anti-American sentiments held by some South Koreans. Just as it was the Americans’ fault that the monster was created and that the Americans are harming innocent people to kill the monster, it is America that has caused some of South Korea’s current problems.  The scene could also be showing a disconnection between what the people want, as seen in the protestors, and what the government does, as seen in the release of Agent Yellow.  The fact that Agent Yellow does not work could also be a statement about the inability of the American military to follow through on its previous claims.

Another aspect of the scene, however, is the family that has been labeled as infected and is sought after by the military. They are simply trying to rescue one of their own family members and over the course of the film, the viewer can watch as they go from being detached from each other to a caring and cooperating family.  It is the family, not Agent Yellow, that kills the monster in the end.  Ordinary, lower class Korean people succeed in killing the monster, which was a feat the government and military could not accomplish.  This point could be a way of saying that the Korean people can handle their own affairs without the “aid” of other nations.

Dargis, Manohla. “It Came From the River, Hungry for Humans (Burp)”. The New York Times. Web. 13 April 2014.
Seida, Giuseppe. “An Interview with Bong Joon-ho”. Web. 13 April 2014.
“The Host.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 13 April 2014.
Yang, Seung-cheol. “That river creature is his baby: Meet the maker of Host”. Korea JoongAng Daily. Web. 13 April 2014.

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