Song Kang-ho as Park Gang-du in The Host (2006). Courtesy of Madman Entertainment Pty. Ltd.

Find It At 5th: The Host

Creature feature examines intersection of class and environmentalism

Find It At 5th Ave. is a recurring column that reviews, previews and explores running and upcoming films at PSU’s independent movie theater, 5th Avenue Cinema.


This weekend, Portland State’s 5th Avenue Cinema will be screening The Host (2006), a South Korean film directed by Bong Joon-ho.


The Host follows Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) who owns a small snack bar by the Han River with his father Park Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong). When hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde are poured down a drain which leads to the river, strange sightings quickly follow suit.


An amphibious creature is spotted more and more frequently, as fish in the river begin to die off. Once the creature finally emerges from the water, Gang-du and his family try to escape the riverside to avoid its attacks, but his daughter Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung) is snatched by the beast. The film follows Gang-du as he attempts to save his daughter from the monster while the government tries to control a new, deadly virus that comes with it.


This monster movie was chosen by 5th Avenue Cinema’s Andi Johnson—a history student at PSU with a degree in media arts and film from Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts. 


“I’ve seen this movie probably four or five times,” Johnson said. “It’s all about ecological mismanagement by the city government, national government and the impacts of ecological disaster and mismanagement on people.” 


Johnson said they were first introduced to Bong’s films through their family. 


“I saw it first in 2010, when my sister got really into Bong Joon-ho’s movies and she was like, ‘you’ve got to see The Host!’” 


While completing their associate’s degree in media arts, the animator of The Host’s monster came to the school to talk about his process—and Johnson rewatched the film two more times. 


“That’s when I was really like, ‘damn this is a sweet movie,’” Johnson said.


Bong was thrust into the international spotlight after the success of his 2019 film Parasite, which was the first South Korean film to receive Academy Award recognition. Parasite was also the first non-English language film to win an Oscar for Best Picture.


“From my experience, all [of Bong’s films] have been about some sort of social struggle,” Johnson said. “For the people who have seen Parasite, it’s so relevant because it deals really well with class struggle, and this movie is very similar in that way. The ones I’ve seen have all had class dynamics involved and sort of deal with political questions.”


 “[The Host] is very related to class, but through the lens of ecological impact,” Johnson continued. “Poor people are impacted more drastically by climate change—in this case a chemical spill.”


Johnson called The Host a film about political accountability, and the ways climate and ecological preservation are still not being met. 


“It’s just as relevant as it was in 2006,” Johnson said. “It feels like governments are failing to the same degree, if not more, as they were 16 years ago, when it comes to handling environmental disasters that directly impact people.”


In addition to being a timely ecologically-focused installment to the theater’s May lineup, Johnson said The Host corresponded with Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Other Asian movies played this year include In the Mood for Love, Devdas and Comrades: Almost a Love Story. 5th Avenue is known and loved for playing international films like these, especially films which relate to contemporary issues. 


“I think [The Host] has a lot of qualities that a lot of movie-goers like,” Johnson said. “It has humor, tension, action—and the political themes aren’t heavy-handed. You can really just enjoy the movie.“


There are very few barriers which prevent viewers from enjoying The Host, though Johnson warned of a gross scene where the monster regurgitates a person. 


“If you don’t like that kind of thing, if you get grossed out, I’d say you could pass,” Johnson said.


The only other thing which would possibly deter someone is the subtitles. Johnson recalled Bong Joon-ho’s speech when he won the Oscar: ”Don’t let the one-inch barrier prevent you from seeing movies.”


But Johnson praised The Host as a great start for people wanting to get into film. 


“It’s come up in school in a few different contexts, so if you’re like ‘I’ll never go to film school but I want to see movies that they show,’ maybe The Host is one,” Johnson said.