The movie opens with an American military pathologist commanding a Korean assistant to dispose of over 100 formaldehyde bottles down the drain. Some time later, two fishermen find and catch some kind of mutated fish (which is never seen) that they release once it bites one of them. Much later, a man commits suicide by jumping off a bridge, but not before noticing that there's "something underwater"
The plot shifts to the present, focusing on a small family. Park Gang-du is a slow-witted man who runs a snack-bar with his father, Hee-bong. Hyun-seo is Gang-du's only daughter, a schoolgirl. Nam-joo is Gang-du's sister, and a national medalist archer. Nam-il is Gang-du's brother, an alcoholic who has not made much of himself since graduating from college.
Gang-du is sent to serve a customer and notices that a crowd has gathered along the edge of the Han River, pointing at something hanging off the Wonhyo Bridge. This turns out to be a large creature that drops into the water. The crowd throw food into the river, to see what will happen, but as the creature emerges, it attacks and devours people whole. Gang-du and an American man try to combat the creature. As Gang-du runs away from the monster, he sees Hyun-seo, recently emerged from the snack bar, unaware of the danger. Gang-du grabs her hand and tries to lead her to safety, but stumbles and grabs the hand of another girl instead. Realizing his error too late, he sees the monster grab Hyun-seo and drag her into the river.
The family grieves at the loss of the young girl. Nam-il blames Gang-du for Hyun-seo's death. Government representatives in biohazard suits arrive and demand to know who has had direct contact with the creature, to which Gang-du raises his hand, as he has had some of the monster's blood on his face. The family is dragged away to a hospital for quarantine. The Korean government announces that the monster is not only a direct risk, but also the host of a virus. While quarantined at the hospital, Gang-du receives a phone call from Hyun-seo, who is not dead, but trapped in a sewer. She is cut off as the cellphone battery runs out. No-one believes Gang-du except his family. They escape the hospital, determined to rescue Hyun-seo. In a confrontation with the creature, Hee-bong is killed. Gang-du is captured by soldiers, and Nam-il and Nam-joo separate.
Nam-il goes to a former college friend for help, and is able to trace Hyun-seo's phone call. He is betrayed and barely escapes capture. He manages to send a text message to Nam-joo with the information. Nam-joo meets the creature outside its lair, but she is knocked unconscious. Gang-du, trapped in the hospital, overhears that there is no virus, but the government is going through the motions anyway to save face (including attempting to extract Gang-du's brain to perform tests on it). After they take a sample of his brain tissue, he takes a hostage and escapes from the hospital.
Meanwhile, Hyun-seo survives in the sewer by hiding in a pipe, but she cannot escape. The creature drops the bodies of its victims nearby, saving them for later. Hyun-seo finds them dead or mortally wounded, except for one young orphan boy. She devises a plan to climb out of the sewer using the victims' clothes as a rope. The plan fails and the creature swallows the two children.
Gang-du arrives and realizes that his daughter is inside the beast. He chases it as it swims into the river. The three siblings converge on the monster, just as it is coming up on the riverbank where demonstrators are gathering to protest the use of Agent Yellow, a chemical that will be released by the government in order to combat the fictional virus. Chaos ensues as the creature comes on shore and is shot at. Agent Yellow is released, and it causes the creature to collapse temporarily. Gang-du manages to open its jaws and pull out the bodies of the two children. The creature then revives and tries to return to the river. Nam-il throws molotov cocktails at the creature, but none of them strike it. Then the homeless man who arrived with Nam-il pours gasoline on it and after Nami-il drops his last molotov cocktail on the floor, Nam-joo lights an arrow from the resulting flames and shoots it into its eye, setting it on fire. The creature runs towards the river, but Gang-du blocks its way, impaling it on a broken street sign and thus killing it. Gang-du tries to revive the children but only the orphan boy survives, who is adopted/befriended by Gang-du.
The Host premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2006 and was released nationally in South Korea on July 27, 2006. Having been heavily hyped and featuring one of the most popular leading actors in the country, Song Kang-ho, the film was released on a record number of screens and made the South Korean record books with its box office performance during its opening weekend. The 2.63 million admissions and $17.2 million box office revenue easily beat the previous records set by Typhoon. The film continued its success and exceeded 6 million viewers on the morning of August 6 2006. In early September the film became South Korea's all time box office leader, selling more than 12.3 million tickets in just over a month in a country of 48.5 million. By the end of its run on November 8, the viewing figures came in at 13,019,740.
The film was released theatrically in Australia on August 17, 2006. During the first half of September, 2006, it premiered in Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong. It received a theatrical release in the United Kingdom on November 10, 2006. This was its first official release outside of film festivals, and outside Asia and Australia. Its American release was March 9, 2007. It was or is planned to be released in several other countries; among them are France, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, and Spain.
The Host received screenings on several film festivals. In addition to its opening in Cannes, among the most prominent were the Toronto, Tokyo and New York film festivals. The film swept Korea's Blue Dragon Awards : The Host received 5 awards, Ko Ah-seong took Best New Actress and Byeon Hee-bong was awarded as Best Supporting Actor.
The French film magazine Cahiers du cinema ranked the film as 3rd place in its list of best films of the year 2006. The Japanese film magazine Kinema Junpo selected it as one of the top 10 best foreign films of the year 2006. (Flags of Our Fathers won the best foreign film of the year 2006.)
With a limited American release starting March 11, 2007, The Host garnered very positive reviews, with a 92% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote "The Host is a loopy, feverishly imaginative genre hybrid about the demons that haunt us from without and within." And Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person of Locus Online called it "the best monster movie since Tremors."
Sequels and Remake
At the end of 2006, Universal Studios purchased the rights to do a remake of The Host for a 2008 release. No further plans with the film have been announced. Bong Joon-Ho announced that there is plans for a sequel and that he is not involved with it. In the past months reports have been coming in from Showbox that they are going to be not only doing a sequel but they are making the film into a trilogy. The Host 2 is due out in 2013 with the same budget as The Host.
The modeling for the titular monster is done by Weta Workshop (which also did the work for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and for King Kong (2005)). The CGI itself is done by The Orphanage, which also did the effects for The Day After Tomorrow.
The film, while not overtly anti-American, contains satire of the U.S. In the opening sequence, an American doctor commands his Korean assistant to dump over 100 bottels of formeldahyde down the drain, a reference to a 2000 incident in which a large amount of formeldahyde was deposited into a drain, having a negative impact on the environment. In addition, the U.S. military stationed in Korea is portrayed as rather uncaring about its effects on the civilians.
However, there is one scene which portrays an American soldier accompanying one of the main characters in fighting the monster.The film also contains satire of the South Korean government, portraying it as inept and uncaring about its citizens. It also satirizes youth protestors.