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Hungry 'Host' Mutant monster has an appetite for humans

It's all Scott Wilson's fault.

He's only in the Korean movie "The Host" for the first three minutes, but that's long enough to set in motion the events that wind up, years later, in a monster gobbling up river walkers in Seoul the way teenage boys snack on tater tots and pizza rolls.

But then I don't believe I've ever seen Wilson in a movie or TV show do anything of enduring positive value for our species. Even when he was introduced as Marg Helgenberger's repentant mobster father on "CSI," he wound up disappointing her and getting bumped off for his troubles.

Here, he's an Ugly American soldier who bullies a Korean underling in a morgue into emptying hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde into the drain leading to the Han River.

Flash to a couple years later. Boys playing in the river find a tadpole with entirely too many tails.

Wham, years later, you've got a slimy mutant monster the size of a Boeing. Think of a combination giant alligator and salamander that wants nothing more than to bungee jump off bridges, do gymnastic flips underneath them and cram as many people as possible into a sewer he keeps as a sort of private pantry.

And then, when he gets hungry, he returns to the pantry -- and, well you can guess the rest. We're never shown it in the film. All we see at one point is his disgorging the bones of a recent human repast -- a good 20 or 30 skeletons tumble out of his maw, picked clean.

This Korean number is one of the dandiest creature features to swim our way in a long time. It isn't just the monster who gets our attention; it's the Korean family that sets itself up as the monster's most implacable mortal enemy.

The monster, you see, makes the mistake of snatching -- on its first public riverside raid -- the family's adorable 8-year-old while she's still wearing her school uniform. Her father is a narcoleptic n'er-do-well who'd rather sleep than do anything, but when his little girl seems to be dead, nothing can console him -- or slake his thirst for vengeance.

And then, when the little girl finds a working cell phone among the corpses and makes a quick frantic call to Daddy, the whole family goes to work to find her. Long before the movie is over, you think this dysfunctional wreck of a family -- crabby grandpa, three squabbling grown children, sassy granddaughter -- has become the pluckiest bunch in all of Southeast Asia.

All the Americans, Korean officials and cops in this film are idiots, dolts, flunkies or worse. "The Host" of the title is a nice play on words when it looks as if the monster, as well as being a creature of appetites, is spreading a virus, too. He's both the virus' host, then, in a scientific sense and, in an ironic social sense, the "host" to the human guests he's planning on having for dinner -- literally.

This movie is no cheap throwaway. It is, in fact, suspenseful, funny and, at times, harrowingly well-made for the kind of movie that it is.

Cool, you know?




3 stars (out of 4)

STARRING: Byun Hee-Bong, Song Kang-Ho and Scott Wilson

DIRECTOR: Bong-Joon Ho

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes. In Korean with subtitles.

RATING: R for language and monster movie slime and gore.

THE LOWDOWN: Korean creature feature about a huge mutant river monster with a taste for human flesh.

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