Is The Host anti-American (spoilers)?

The Park family in The Host

The packed performance of The Host at Frightfest on Monday went down well. We were told by the organisers that we were watching the longest possible print. Whether that means there are cuts in other theatrical versions I don’t know.

One of the things about The Host is that it’s generated a lot of noise about anti-Americanism. A lot of the criticism is based on the first scene. But there are other examples throughout. Here’s my list (spoiler alert):

  • (Opening scene) The treatment of the Korean lab assistant by the American boss. The Korean is just there to do menial tasks (like cleaning the lab), and work through the night if his boss orders him to. And the lab is nowhere near clean enough.
  • (Opening scene) The deliberate pollution of the river Han just to get the American lab looking a bit tidier: (1) “the Han is a broad river” says the American: it can take a few chemicals; and (2) the American overrules the protests of the lab assistant
  • The role of Kang-du (Song Kang-Ho) in fighting the monster is ignored in the news bulletins. It’s the off-duty American soldier who gets all the praise. Instead, Kang-du is criminalised for coming into contact with the monster when it is thought that the monster is hosting a virus.
  • The “virus” is in fact a mis-diagnosis by the Americans and the Americans cover this up
  • The comical mad cross-eyed American scientist who drills into Kang-du’s head in order to “prove” the existence of the virus
  • The criticism by the American media of the Korean government’s failure to capture the renegade family
  • The decision by the Americans that they have to take control and nuke the Han with Agent Yellow (an untested anti-biological agent)

In a couple of the examples above, the film is also criticising the Korean authorities, who are complicit in the American approach, to the extent of deploying the familiar riot police to suppress those protesting against the use of Agent Yellow. But there are also criticisms of Korean authority which has nothing to do with Americans: for example the police who are clearing the site on the banks of the river can’t be bothered to explain to the people why they’re doing it. Instead, they turn on the TV for the news broadcast.

In the end, of course, it’s a pretty old-fashioned, low-tech solution which gets rid of the monster, perhaps suggesting the irrelevance of the American involvement in the incident. This attitude is reinforced at the end of the film when Kang-du turns off the American TV news item describing the incident because it’s irrelevant: concentrating on the food is much more important.

I wasn’t expecting quite so much laugh-out-loud humour in this film, though I guess having seen Barking Dogs and Memories of Murder I shouldn’t have been surprised. But of course there are some good scary bits as well.

Finally, it wasn’t until a day after seeing the film that I realised I hadn’t noticed the subtitles. That must mean they were in good English. Congratulations to the Metropolitician on his work.

Read a detailed review of The Host over at koreanfilm.org.uk.

Update 15 November 2006: Twitch has spotted an article in Yonhap reporting Kim Jong-il’s enthusiastic endorsement of The Host for its anti-americanism.

“The movie portrays realistically and through impersonation that the American troops occupying South Korea are the monster that steals people’s lives and destroys their happiness,” North Korea’s weekly magazine Tongil Sinbo said in its latest edition. The commentary was carried by the North’s Web site Uriminzokkiri.

Bong Joon-ho: The Host (괴물, 2006) SterneSterneSterneSterneSterne

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