A Good American Host?

So the news is confirmed that Gore Verbinski will be producing an American remake of the South Korean monster film, Gwoemul [aka The Host] (2006; dir. Joon-ho Bong) for Universal pictures. It will be a debut feature for director Fredrick Bond.

The original film was a record-breaking success in South Korea and across Asia, so probably a Westernised remake was always inevitable, things being as they are in Hollywood.

The story concerns of giant tadpole thing that rises from the Han River in the middle of Seoul, mutated by toxic chemicals carelessly flung into its waters by unethical military scientists. The monster snatches up the younger daughter of a rather dysfunctional working-class Korean family, the members of which must overcome their maladjustments to rescue her. It was both funny and poignant, with some of the most original and convincing monster action we’d seen for a while. Many people rate it as one of the best monster pics ever.

Host pic 3

In regards to a US remake, Bond commented that he “embraced the opportunity to mix a larger-than-life monster with a heartfelt family drama.” (Variety)

Well, I hope it works. Certainly producer Verbinski has a way with big monsters, at least in the context of his box-office smash Pirates of the Caribbean movies (click on image to see the giant Kraken’s “jaws” more clearly):

Host pic 4

The trouble is, Verbinski isn’t the director or the writer of The Host remake. Still, hopefully he’ll keep an eye on things while he’s off directing his video game adaptation Bioshock.

Naturally, the mere act of remaking what most see as a unique and worthy monster film has been greeted with some skepticism. The Backbrain has a definite opinion, but in the interests of fairness and balance, I asked Kaiju Search-Robot Avery to give his eternally optimistic perception on the issue as well.

Rob’s take:

I confess I’m a bit underwhelmed about prospects for a The Host remake. To me, everything that was good about the original (except the SFX) was quintessentially Korean, stuff that will have to go in a US remake. As I’ve said elsewhere, to me remaking the film seems pointless, as “the visual style, the political irony and culturally specific characterisation that makes The Host so unique will all need to be abandoned.” And what that leaves is a totally generic monster movie. Maybe they’ll make a good one, but it won’t be The Host and they might as well have called it “Attack of the Giant River Tadpole” or something and have done with it. Surely this will be another example of grabbing an easy audience by “remaking” a successful Asian film, abandoning its heart and soul in the process. I guess I’m happy that we’ll be getting a new biggish-budget monster flick, but do we have to trash a world “classic” to get it? Can’t we encourage Western audiences to be a little more cosmopolitan?

Avery’s take:

I keep hearing fans getting upset about the idea of a remake of the film, but I can definitely see some good in the idea of a remake. For one, Gore Verbinski is a rather impressive name to be involved. Also, this is a first-time director helming the project. We shouldn’t be quick to judge what this film will be like without knowing what this director can do. If you’ll all remember, Cloverfield was directed by an unknown, Matt Reeves, and produced by a well-known big wig as well, J.J. Abrams, and look at what they were able to achieve. Why wouldn’t the creators and owners of the copyright want to make a “mainstream” version of the film to appeal to a considerably much wider potential audience than a subtitled version ever would? The general public tend to stay away from subtitled and foreign films and limited release titles. Making an American version could bring in a whole new legion of fans and if done right could still win over the original fanbase. Sure, the downside is that it would most likely lose the wacky Korean humor, but to some that would be a plus. I’ve also heard several say that they weren’t fans of the original, stating that they felt it was too flawed, but that they welcome this version. Well, this new take on the story could actually win them over. Also, why wouldn’t we want more potential fans to be introduced to this film and our beloved genre? It’s definitely a smart business move for sure.


Here are two classic giant moments from Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies: the destruction of the Edinburgh Trader by the kraken from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, using iconic imagery from umpteen old woodcuts; and the unleashing of the Sea Goddess from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End:

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13 Responses to A Good American Host?

  1. Terry Frost says:

    I definitely think that this one doesn’t need a remake. Hollywood tends to outsource its’ creativity these days. It’s a land of accountants and technicians, the spark of invention is usually produced elsewhere.

  2. David C says:

    Would it be wrong to quote Sean Collins on this?

    First-time director Mark Poirier will be remaking The Host. Fans are worried he’ll deviate too much from the original by making the remake a good movie.

    I guess so 🙂

  3. Backbrain says:

    Mark Poirier? Variety from 18 November says that it’s first-time director Fredrick Bond. Do you — or is it Sean Collins — know better?

  4. Backbrain says:

    I should add that I’d be ecstatic if the remake was better. I just doubt it. None of the Asian remakes yet have been, despite some deviant opinions re “The Ring” (and “The Grudge” doesn’t count).

    And if Collins didn’t think “The Host” was a good movie he’s an idiot. (Sorry to all those I just offended — especially Mr Collins, whom I’m sure isn’t an idiot. I’m being ironic, honest.) I’d give leeway to “not a great movie”, but to say it’s bad is just silly.

  5. David C says:

    _I_ don’t think it is a good movie…

    Well, I don’t know. I can appreciate what they are trying to achieve, with their tonal shifts and all, but it never came together for me (excellent effects notwithstanding).

    Sean is actually an excellent blogger on horror, comics and related fields, but he certainly has his personal take on things, which I don’t always agree with. He’s not much of a fan of Guillermo del Toro either.

  6. Backbrain says:

    You’re so contrary! 🙂

    I think some people relate to the more extreme cultural nuances and oddities in world cinema and some don’t. Which I suppose is an argument in favour of remakes.

    To me, “The Host” was a very good film, made so by the tonal shifts and all. I guess we’ll have to agree to differ. At least you’re at one with the Harlands….

  7. Avery says:

    I actually loved “The Host”, but I also have to say that IMHO it had it’s flaws. Most of the Korean humor just wasn’t funny to me or any of the audience members that I viewed it with any of the 4 times I caught it in the theater, as no one was laughing. I saw it at an ‘arthouse’ theater so it wasn’t a normal ‘general’ audience, but packed auditoriums of the critic kinds. Not that we didn’t ‘get it’ but maybe we just felt that we couldn’t relate to it. I think an Americanized version would appeal to a much wider audience and really what’s wrong with making our own version and translation of the story to enjoy. No matter how this version turns out we’ll always still have the original version and it’s Asian sequels to enjoy. Most everyone loathed the American version of “Godzilla”, but it honestly didn’t destroy character forever. We all have moved on. It’s no different fro all the countless takes on ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’. Some are great while others…. You get the idea. Whether it turns out something great like the original or just another by the numbers giant rampaging monster flick we still will be getting another version of a great story.

  8. Backbrain says:

    Sure, but having flaws isn’t the same thing as being a “bad” movie. You could argue for flaws in just about every film ever made and every book ever written. Shakespeare’s works have “flaws”. And though the presumably all-American audience you were with, Avery, didn’t think the Korean humour was funny, obviously the vast Korean audience did. Is that “bad”? I admit I found some of it a bit strained, though as it went along that foreignness just became part of the ambiance of the film. I didn’t see it as a laugh-out-loud sort of humour anyway. Again, this all sounds like an argument for a remake; I just don’t think the film is anything more than a generic monster picture once you remove the non-Western differences from it — including the grim, melancholic ending, which has a pretty good chance of disappearing under the pressure of differing cultural forces.

    It’s all moot. Until they make it, we won’t know if it’s bad or good (and even then maybe we’ll argue about it). Past history is against it though, in my opinion…

    Hey, are we have a controversy? Quick! Someone argue with me. Keep it going! It’s usually so quiet and agreeable around here.

  9. Terry Frost says:

    I think that one of the virtues of The Host is the fact that the plot ventures into areas that a Hollywood exploitation film wouldn’t go. The death of a child is hard-core by US standards and although it fits well in the structure of the movie, I don’t think that a remake would take a protagonist along the arc that Kang-ho Song’s character travels. Yeah, it’s about the angry catfish thingie but it’s also about the lives of the characters. I agree with you, Rob, the changes in tone make the movie what it is.

  10. Avery says:

    Oh I most definitely agree with the fact that those changes in tone and that weird[at least to the general American audience] Korean style of humor are very big parts of what make the original stand out from other giant monster films. My point is what’s wrong with making another version of the same basic story that would have it’s creators’ own influences and styles to make it stand on it’s own?? Much like the many versions of “Fankenstein” which some are drastically different from the original, but that doesn’t make them a bad film or in the first place a bad idea. Just a different take on the same basic story to love for it’s own distinct differences.

  11. Hervey says:

    Plain and simple, Hollywood wants to take THE HOST and make it “their own.”
    Simply put, they will make it their movie and capitalize off it. We all know that Hollywood movies are well known world wide. Therefore when we (Hollywood/USA) remakes it, Germany, Australia, France, Italy, America and other countries outside of Asia will think it’s “America’s movie.” Even some people in Asia who strictly watch American films won’t know where it really came from; Thus totally tarnishing the idea and fact that Asia (in this case Korea) has well made films and even originality.

    When people talk about films like The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water, The Eye etc, most movie goers don’t know where it really came from. So they say “I’m talking about the real version….The American one.”
    When in fact, it is Asian.

    Basically Hollywood remakes it, takes ALL the glory and shows how lazy American audiences are. What happened to being “the most diverse nation on Earth”??
    If this statement is TRUE, then we (Americans) should be tolerant and open to viewing films from abroad…especially if they feel it’s so great that it needs to be REMADE

  12. Backbrain says:

    Well, I’m glad you said all that, Hervey… I’d get in trouble if I did. 🙂

    I’m sure you’re right about the intellectual laziness of audiences, though, and that goes beyond America. When talking about the Japanese “Ring” and its influence on the genre, for example, I (here in Australia) always have to explain that the US one was a remake and that the Japanese one came first. MInd you, “Ring” got remade everywhere, even throughout Asia. And Raimi’s company did the right thing by “The Grudge” by getting the original director to make it so that it just fit into the “series” of “Ju-on” films he made without feeling much like a re-make at all.

    And I sort of like the fact that the “Infernal Affairs” remake was re-titled “The Departed” and thus divorced somwewhat from the original, recognising that major changes had been made, especially in terms of cultural tone. The original is acknowledged for anyone who takes notice of such things, but the changed title forces the film to stand on its own merit — and leaves “Infernal Affairs”, as a separate entity, to be itself. One feels less inclined to compare them.

    I have to add though that here in Australia at least, the situation regarding audience acceptance of foreign (ie. non-Western) films is improving. More subtitled films are being released to mainstream cinemas (most recently “The Orphanage”) and many appear on DVD in their original form. Even anime!

  13. Joseph Winter says:

    All of you have interesting arguments. However, What could possiby be so wrong with making a remake, and modifying it for an audience of a different culture. The fact of the matter is, The Host is really only enjoyable if you know the Korean culture. It’s the same with any foreign movie really, wound an audience in France enjoy a Russian movie, with Russian humor? Probably not. So, make a remake to break it down for an audience of a different culture, with humor and drama that they will understand, that they can identify with. What’s so wrong with that? Hell, it might even inspire more people to see the subtitled original, if word ‘mysteriously’ got out that it was a remake!

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