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The river runs with it
A UK region 2 DVD review of THE HOST / GWOEMUL by Slarek
 

The Host is a film I have already covered in my review of CN Entertainment's region 3 disc, which you can find here. Four viewings in I still rate it as the best monster movie in years and thoroughly recommend you hunt it out in one form or another.

The purpose of this review is to look at the content of Optimum's recent UK region 2 release, to see how the picture and sound measure up to the high standard set by CN Entertainment's disc, and to take a trip through the extras to see if that 2-disc status is justified.

sound and vision

The region 3 release excelled here, but Optimum have clearly gone to the same digital or film master And come very close to matching it. The picture quality is almost identical, with contrast, colour and detail all very impressive and almost no visible digital noise. The bit rate is only very slightly lower than that on the region 3 disc. The framing is 1.85:1, which gives very slightly more picture information on the sides than the region 3 disc. The picture is anamorphically enhanced.

The DTS track from the region 3 disc is absent here, but the 5.1 included here comes in a very close second, with great use of surrounds for atmospherics and strong use of LFE bass for the creature's footsteps.

The subtitles are, like those on the CN Entertainment disc, a little Americanised in their translation.

extra features

Here's where the Optimum 2-disc release leaves the extras-free CN Entertainment disc standing. Mind you, even this falls short of KD Media's 4-disc Korean release, which includes three commentary tracks that have not been included here.

DISC 1

The only extra here is the UK Theatrical Trailer (1:35), which is a little less shy about showing the creature than the Korean trailers (see below), but keeps it to glimpses and sells the tension of the film well.

DISC 2

The categories on this disc are sometimes sub-divided further – the very nifty menu does not reveal at first glance just how much there is here.

The Creature contains six featurettes.

Stills Gallery (7:55)
Actually a featurette on the initial design artwork and models, built around an interview with the artist Jang Hee-chul. Fascinating to see alternative concepts for the creature. The designs themselves are beautifully rendered.

Designing the Creature (11:20)
A companion piece to the above, built around interviews with Jang Hee-chul, artists Oh Woo-jin and Lee Ji-sung, storyboard artist Ha Kwang-min and director Bong, and includes a further selection of excellent concept drawings.

Creature Animation (18:59)
This connects with the previous featurette and covers the selection of the effects house, some on location footage and plenty of interviews with crew members whose Korean name captions are not translated.

Puppet Animatronix (7:14)
More interviews and interesting footage of the construction and operating of the the life-sized animatronix monster head.

Making the Creature (16:26)
Four key effects shots in various stages of development, showing the animatic, the plate (no effects), the animation (various stages of development, composited) and the final shot.

Gag Reel (3:58)
Gag effects shots created for a laugh using footage and creature CG model, plus some half-done stuff.

The Making of The Host has seven further featurettes.

The Making of The Host with Director Bong Joon-ho (9:41)
Director Bong and his fellow scriptwriters take us on a breezy trip through the genesis of the story and characters and of some of the key locations, one of which I'd have sworn was a set before seeing this. Other contributors remain unidentified as the Korean name captions are not translated.

Storyboards (7:50)
Storyboards for some of the sequences from the film, accompanied by the appropriate slice of the film soundtrack.

Bong Joon-Ho's Direction (4:54)
Actors and crew pay tribute to their hard working director, who is shown on location in some welcome behind-the-scenes footage. For the first time the Korean name captions are translated.

Memories of the Sewer (9:41)
The cast and crew recall the delights of filming in the Seoul sewer, an experience that required them all to be inoculated in advance of the shoot against a particularly unpleasant breed of tapeworm that dwells there. Not exactly a recruiting video for the Korean film industry, it's nonetheless highly engaging.

The Film Departments (9:00)
The work of a number of technical departments is highlighted here, including stunt co-ordination, art direction, set decoration and special make-up, all of it interesting. Bong once again comes across as a director who gets involved with even the smallest details.

The Physical Effects (5:08)
A welcome five minutes in the spotlight for the a group is work is usually unappreciated by the viewer, those who create the physical results of the CGI effects, covering everything from squashed cars and splashes to the 'Agent Yellow' gas and the depositing of people from the monster's mouth.

Sound Effects (8:45)
An interesting look at the creation of the monster sound effects that reveals the creature's voice was supplied by actor Oh Dal-soo of Oldboy and Lady Vengeance and details some surprising solutions for its movement, my favourite being the decision to create its footsteps using a squid and a punch-bag. Some of the footage of actors in the sound booth is priceless.

The Crew has three inclusions.

The Staff (5:14)
The oddest extra on the disc has a number of unidentified crew members get honest about working on the film and director Bong, with their voices disguised and the camera focussed on their feet.

The Production Team (14:30)
Key crew members recall the tougher elements of the shoot in a welcome change from the backslapping that too often dominates supporting featurettes.

Kevin's Korean Life (6:31)
American visual effects supervisor Kevin Rafferty talks about his first visit to the set and Korea itself, which is cut with on-set footage and comments from key crew members.

The Characters has a further three entries.

Casting Tapes (5:32)
A featurette that looks at the casting of the two youngest characters and includes extracts from the audition tapes.

The Characters (3:40)
The lead actors talk briefly about their characters, which is cut with appropriate behind-the-scenes footage. This could have been longer.

Training the Actors (5:18)
Behind-the-scenes footage of the lead actors training in archery and the use of firearms.

Deleted Scenes (23:18)
Some intriguing footage is included here, all of which are presented in good quality anamorphic widescreen. Some of them are single shots, while others are fully edited sequences. I'd lay money on the Korean disc having an optional commentary track by director Bong on this, which would help to identify exactly where a couple of the scenes were originally located and just why they were removed. The real surprise is that there are some composited CGI shots in here.

Saying Goodbye to The Host (4:45)
The crew look back at the project through some very rosy glasses.

Korean Trailer (6:28)
Actually three trailers – the first two avoid showing the monster and include effects shots in their pre-CGI state, the last giving only glimpses.

There are also trailers of other Optimum releases Memories of Murder, Shaolin Soccer and Pulse.

summary

As someone who has let slip a few moans about the puny number of extras on some so-called special editions that often split the film and features over two discs purely to con you into believing you're getting something special, here I have no complaints whatsoever. This is the standard by which all 2-disc special editions should be judged. There are 20 featurettes here, over 23 minutes of deleted scenes and four trailers, all of them interesting and that collectively run for over three hours. Now THAT is a special edition. Highly recommended.

The Host
Gwoemul

South Korea
115 mins
director
Bong Joon-ho
starring
Song Kang-ho
Byeon Hie-bong
Park Hae-il
Bae Du-na
Ko Ah-sung

DVD details
region 2 UK
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 5.1 surround
DTS 5.1 surround
Dolby 2.0 stereo (Cantonese)
languages
Korean / English
subtitles
English
Chinese traditional
Chinese simplified
extras .
Concept featurette
Designing the Creature featurette
Creature Animation featurette
Puppet Animatronix featurette
Making the Creature featurette
Gag reel
Makin-of featurette
Storyboards
Bong Joon-ho featurette
Memories of the Sewer featurette
Film Departments featurette
Physical Effects featurette
Sound Effects featurette
Staff featurette
Production Team featurette
Kevin Rafferty featurette
Casting tapes
Characters featurette
Training the Actors featurette
Deleted scenes
Saying Goodbye to The Host featurette
Trailers
distributor
Optimum
release date
5 March 2007
review posted
28 March 2007

Related review
Memories of Murder
The Host [region 3 DVD]
Mother
Tokyo!

See all of Slarek's reviews