More on tone, and how THE HOST pulls it off

Cannes is approaching in late May, and as bloggers and journalists speculate about what will splash along the French Riviera, I recalled the festival’s hit of 2006 — Bong Joon-ho’s THE HOST. Part satire, part sit-com, part horror and mostly monster, THE HOST is hailed as Korea’s ‘biggest film ever’ and was certainly a critical darling. If you haven’t seen it – do – if nothing else, as a balm to ready yourself for the barrage of mostly bad summer blockbusters that are gearing up to piss you off.

One glance at THE HOST’s tomatometer and you see a pattern: reviewers are talking about genre, genre, genre, but also tone, tone, tone. I started thinking about this subject a few weeks ago, submitting a post about out-in-theatres-now CHLOE. Tone, simply put, is critical, and usually filmmakers are striving to iron it into seamless consistency as opposed to batting it around playfully like a cat with its catch.

But is Bong Joon-ho really the feline here? On the genre front, no question, he bounces us around with abandon. When we’re not worrying about a giant, ferocious tadpole — created from industrial/chemical pollutants – emerging from Seoul’s Han River, we’re amused by the slapstick antics of a hapless family caught in the center of the morass. As the government clamps down on anyone who has come into contact with the beast, the family’s escape tactics, interactions and general arm-waving can only be classified as silly, situational comedy. Except in sitcoms, a key character doesn’t usually bleed to death.

How does the director pull this off? I contend that genre does shift, even radically, but the tone does not. In other words, the material feels the same, even if I’m traveling from tears to laughs to gasps – because it’s all fairly outrageous. The monster does back flips, for godssake! The American scientist is cross eyed. The family slips on banana peels (not really, but almost) and the government sprays the public with a chemical dispensed by a giant yellow pod, floating ridiculously above them. True, a little girl is trapped in a sewer filled with corpses, terrified, but when she and another surviving child dream of what they’ll eat if they can get home … she smiles and says, “A cold beer!” Lo and behold, the monster later burps one up, and a full can at that. The way in which the genres slam from turn to turn is in fact, consistent, as is the tone, for the most part. Bravo to Bong for pulling it off.

The trailer, which plays only as a horror film (this little form doesn’t know how to shift) is here: