Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Host Vs. Sector 7 - Monsters, Assume Your Positions!

Gwoemul Sector 7

I love horror movies. I love disaster movies. I love movies with monsters, aliens and anything else horrible and supernatural or monstrous. I have been watching horror and thrillers, action and sci-fi since I was a wee little girl. When others were watching only cartoons, I was watching cartoons, Star Trek TNG and Stephen King, among other things nerdy. So, for that reason, I expect a lot from a monster movie.

Ever since I have been into Korean entertainment, "The Host" has hovered over my head like a majestic high bar that other things are apparently too short to reach. I had heard the best things about it and I knew it as some legendary movie, a masterpiece of Korean cinema.

I was quite confused about it, because I had watched a part of it way back when it had first reached private cable television here. I remembered that I disliked it. That I found the balance of jokes and seriousness so "off" that I could not figure out what the movie wanted me to feel.

But I wasn't into Korean entertainment back then. So, having gotten used to and absolutely loving the Korean way of adding lightness of mood into an otherwise serious work, I went back to give it a second chance. I love the cast, having now seen them in many things and appreciating them as actors and the idea of a monster movie felt intriguing. To my utter disappointment, the movie was as bad for me the second time around as it had been years ago.

Gwoemul Cast
Despite it having a cast I really really like.

But let's switch to "Sector 7" for a moment. Now, this is a Hollywood movie wearing a Korean mask. We have a hot chick, her hot guy, the coward, the mysterious one etc etc. We have "light" moments of really "we know it's not funny, but we're adding it to ease you into things" humor before the marine shi.. uhm.. excrement hits the fan. A lot of special effects, sometimes used a bit too much, lots of dying and screaming and monster fluids. You get the idea.

Ha Ji Won is basically being Gil Ra Im, complete with a dead father for her character, who is even the same actor ( Jeong In Gi ) playing her deceased dad in "Secret Garden". Oh Ji Ho is completely other-word-for-kitty whipped by her. Ahn Seong Ki is being very cool and "means business". Stereotypes, but that is all you need in movies that aren't really about the characters.

This movie does not bring something new. It does not pretend to be something "fresh" or special and neither is it trying to do too much in one film. You know you are in for a brainless ride which you will enjoy as long as you get action and fancy visuals. And a lot of blood. And them monster fluids.

Kissy Kissy
Please? Please, ma'am?

And this is why the movie succeeds. Because it is being honest about what it is and it's embracing its type of entertainment without aiming higher than its pieces can take it. This is also the reason why I feel "The Host" fails.

The problem with "The Host" is that it cannot hit that sweet spot between serious and light. At least not for me and I am one who loves some dark comedy. We start off light, all hell then breaks loose, the little girl is kidnapped and you feel scared for her. And the way the movie goes, in general, is made so that the viewer will worry about the little girl who has been kidnapped by the monster.

But just as the post-abduction scene kicks in, you have the family crying like idiots for quite some time. When I say "like idiots", I mean that they intentionally overdo it and use a "comedic" style of crying (you can tell the actors are in comedy mode), to make the characters seem like a bunch of overemotional rednecks ruining the ceremony. Uhm, you do know I'm supposed to care for these dire circumstances and the characters, don't you, movie?

Starting off by belittling the pain these events brought and cracking jokes at such a serious issue as a family mourning for their child they think is dead is not exactly you saying "I am trying to get you to care here".

This scene was, is and will keep being beyond me...

The "funny" scenes are humorless, awkward and thrown in at such random places (even after the really serious part of the movie kicks in), yanking you from the heavy moments instead of easing you out of them. It makes you lose any sympathy for the characters and it does not let you get into one type of mindset and emotional state long enough to actually care. It also feels like it's trying to imitate the usual style of Korean black comedy, but fails to.

I hear people talking about how wonderfully this movie mixes genres and how it's supposed to be poignant and meaningful (them fancy words again), but I just don't see it. I see an attempt at that, not a successful attempt at that.

"Head" is a recent favorite of mine which does comedy/suspense thriller well. The tone is overall light, throughout the work and the characters, both good and bad, are all nuts in their own ways. You get into what the movie will be like and it keeps its consistency. So do most Korean movies which are using comedy along with bleak situations.

"The Host" is trying to do this and fails, for me at least. It fails because its "serious" is dead serious, but then its "comedy" is so tasteless and randomly thrown in that it just feels like whoever wrote it was snorting too much of something at the time.

If Hancinema is accurate, 4 people co-wrote it, which would explain the all-over-the-place feel of this movie without drug "trips" or temporary insanity involved.

Yet another "comedy" scene chucked in at a very dark part of the movie.

The movie is supposedly meant to criticize the U.S and its presence in South Korea and everything about it reeks "We'll show you how we do it!". But by avoiding a lot of what Hollywood does, even the things done right, you might just end up with a mess of a movie in your hands.

"The Host" tries too hard to be "Korean" and fresh, while still offering Hollywood thrills without being Hollywood. It tries too hard to fit the Korean style of comedy into a serious movie, without considering how to integrate it so that it makes sense and it tries too hard to be different and do too many things in one film. The effects work, the flow works, but this movie is based on you caring for the characters and fails to do that with its inconsistencies.

What "Sector 7" does is to avoid these conflicting qualities "The Host" had and become something more honest instead of lumping everything it had together and trying to fit two movie styles and industries into one. The monster was the most interesting thing about the latter, so they use it more here. Again, you can see its intelligence and that makes it even scarier than regular "it's just an animal" monsters.

In addition, the "humor" department is not trying too much and it stays where it should. When things get serious in this movie, they get serious (plot wise, because they are still ridiculous and entertaining for the viewer) and the characters don't feel like robots who had their emotion/brain function chip malfunctioning from beginning to end.

The "drama" is toned down but the overacting is so ricidulous that it's at least fun. Because it is done honestly and because the monster plays such a big part, you do actually feel for the characters in the sense that you worry about their fate and still want to see them get picked off like the squishy meaty ragdolls that they are, in the eyes of the monster. And its jaws. Ok, the viewer sees them like that too, after a certain point.

You see a cast of characters. I see a menu.

For me, this movie is not trying to "fight" Hollywood anymore. It does get a bit too like it in some aspects, but it also uses the elements that sometimes make it good, in a smart way. Yes, we do have stereotypes and yes, we do have predictability, but you know what else we have? Fun, entertainment and a consistent, balanced movie that makes sense.

What you expect from a movie is highly subjective. I know the majority of people love "The Host" and I imagine they somehow "get" the movie in ways that I can't and will strongly disagree with me. And those people will potentially hate "Sector 7" because it's too unoriginal and shallow. But there will also be people, like me, who find more good in the latter than in the former. I don't consider myself that special.

I personally feel "Sector 7" is brainless entertainment, but it's just that. Entertaining, fun, thrilling and not fumbling all over a big pile of what it is trying to achieve and integrate, like "The Host" was.

Burn, baby, burn
Is Ahn Seong Ki wielding a flamethrower shallow? Yes, but it's still badass and fun.

Could it be because I expected a lot from "The Host" and not much from "Sector 7"? Possible, but I am only human (I think) and can therefore not reach parallel universes to see how I'd feel if things hadn't happened this way. I go by what I have.

At the end of the day, what I am trying to do here with this review, besides stating my own opinions, is to say that these two movies are in fact very different. A raging sea monster is the common ground, but everything else is just worlds apart. If you loved "The Host", you cannot be sure you will love "Sector 7". And if you hated "The Host", that does not mean "Sector 7" will give you more of the same.

Who is the winner? "Sector 7", as far as I am concerned.

I would suggest watching both of these movies, however, because regardless of which one you like or don't like, they are both important milestones in Korean cinema, for different reasons. They are big budget and they have something to offer to the crowds that will like either one or even both.

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