The Host (Gwoemul) (2006)

The buzz of 2006's Cannes festival, Bong Joon-ho's The Host offers all sorts of visual surprises.

The Host (Gwoemul)

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hie-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, Ah-sung Ko
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
First date: 2006
UK Release Date: 2006-11-10 (Limited release)
US Release Date: 2007-03-09 (Limited release)

"Old people have always said that an animal which kills a human should be torn limb from limb," says Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong), "That it's a human's duty to do so." He sighs, and looks up at his young granddaughter's photo, one of many arranged in a makeshift memorial where hundreds of mourners have gathered. Behind him, a man in a yellow hazmat suit appears, about to announce what you already know: the "animal" that has grabbed young Hyun-seo (Ko A-sung) is not only deserving of being torn limb from limb, but it's also the product of human corruption, greed, and arrogance.

You know this because The Host (Gwoemul) has started -- about 20 minutes before -- much like other creature features. A sinister-seeming U.S. military pathologist (Scott Wilson) working in South Korea instructs a startled minion to begin dumping formaldehyde into local waters. The toxin infects the environment, producing a ghastly mutation -- part fish, part reptile -- that, just before Hee-bong's speech, emerges from the Han River with a perverse combination of grace and awfulness. Galumphing up onto the riverbank, it surprises a crowd of hapless citizens assembled for nice-day strolling by the water. At first, they don't quite comprehend what they're looking at, and they gawk. Within seconds, however, they're on the run, the creature in hot pursuit. Screaming, flailing, falling -- the humans don't have a chance.

Hilarious and horrific, the scene offers up a range of grisly-campy delights, all indicative of the film's relentless ingenuity: the camera careens with the fleeing crowd, pausing to show brief instances of violence: a girl under headphones unaware that she's about to be snatched up, an assortment of bodies torn up, chewed, or tossed into the water, a dog gnawing at his owner, whale- and swan-shaped paddleboats bearing stunned observers of the turmoil. Hyun-seo's father, the sincere manchild Kang-du (Song Kang-ho), rushes into the fray to rescue her. When he loses track of her and takes another child's hand by accident, the mistake at first seems almost comic, his stunned face so unbelieving you anticipate he'll find her in an instant. But just as suddenly, the scene is tragic: in the mouth of the monster, she disappears into the Han.

Kang-du soon learns, from that fellow in yellow hazmat suit, that he may be infected by the monster's insidious "virus." The man doesn't have an exact set of facts to dispense, but instead tells the gathered mourners to watch a conveniently located TV, where they will see an "explanation." This turns out to be a public service sort of notice, full of vague, anxious-making hype, the media and government colluding in crowd manipulation. Like his father, unemployed brother Nam-il (Park Hae-il), and champion archer sister Nam-joo (Bae Doo-na), Kang-du distrusts this official story. But it hardly matters: deemed infected, he's dragged off to a hospital, where he submits to tests and hangs his head, despondent over his loss and feeling guilt to boot.

And then Kang-du gets a cell phone call from Hyun-seo late at night. She screams like a horror movie girl, her terrified voice echoes, the call must be a nightmare. But Kang-du is certain she's alive (his insistence to a security guard conjures yet another haunting, weirdly beautiful image, his face pressed against plastic sheeting that's supposed to keep his infection quarantined). And so he and his family set off on their own, knowing the government is unable, not to mention quite unwilling, to take up the search.

As much as their ensuing adventure follows conventional narrative turns (familial bickering and bonding, resistance against self-serious authorities, wily appearances and serial-climactic showdowns with the monster), The Host offers all sorts of visual surprises. These in turn pay homage to past films as much as they innovate. Bong Joon-ho's influences are many and eclectic, as he described them in an interview with this writer, both obvious (Godzilla, Jaws, Alien) and unexpected (John Carpenter's The Thing, Sally Mann's photographs). Shadows are alternately protective and ominous, city streets familiar and strange. The sheer agility of the camera -- whether tracking the ever-mobile monster or probing children's faces -- articulates a delicate sensibility, an attention to details of composition and color.

The creature in particular is characterized by an uncanny grace (its slipping off the bridge into the water is an oddly breathtaking image, both gruesome and ethereal), while its human opponents remain manifestly odious. The humans fight amongst themselves, the poor folks -- who include the homeless as well as the food vendor Hee-bong fend for themselves in ways at once honorable, cunning, and necessarily devious. They must contend with an onslaught of bad news: TV journalists report U.S. displeasure with Korea's inability to handle its own crisis (shades of SARS, complete with surgical-masked pedestrians huddled on street corners), the police remain treacherous and unthinkingly aggressive, and an American doctor (Paul Lazar) comes equipped with mad-scientist instruments for brain surgery.

As the hapless humans scurry about above ground, Hyun-seo remains determined below. Deposited in a lair filled with other live and dead bodies, she describes it to Kang-du as "like a really big sewer." Looking small in her schoolgirl's plaid skirt, she emerges from shadows, her face smudged with grime, determined to combat the creature. At once poignant and grim, clever and resolute, she's not so much vengeful as she is charming and courageous. She's an ideal hero for the moment.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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