Bong-hive, assemble! Explore the Oscar winner’s cinematic archive – from a gigantic sea monster terror to a dog-napping gone wrong, takes on class, and society taboos
It’s the film du’jour on every film critic’s lips. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, a social satire based around class, involving a working class family scamming themselves into a rich family to fund their existence, with deadly consequences, became the unlikely hero of this year’s awards season. The film won the prestigious Palme d’Or, the Golden Globe for best foreign film, and four Oscars, including best picture and best director.
The golden goose of Hollywood, Bong has become somewhat of a living meme after announcing in his acceptance speech of his intentions to end the night with a stiff drink (our relatable hero), and a photo capturing his two Oscars ‘kissing’. And lets’ not forget when he basically called out western cinema viewers for not reading the MF subtitles.
South Korean’s New Wave – now referred to frequently as “Hallyuwood” (with “Hallyu” roughly translating as “flow from Korea”) – is emblematic of the country’s exciting cinematic renaissance. From filmmakers like Kim Jee-woon to Park Chan-wook, and actors including Choi Min-sik, Ma Dong-seok, and Lee Byung-hun. Bong Joon-Ho, of course, is one of the leaders of the Hallyuwood charge.
If you’re still relatively new to this Bong-mania, we’ve compiled a list of the director’s top five films.
BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (2000)
A film about a man who hates the sound of dog’s barking so much that he resorts to abusing and kidnapping them doesn’t sound like the wisest choice for a film debut (dog lovers, avert your gaze), but Bong Joon-ho’s satirical take on the Belgian classic tale A Dog of Flanders is a darkly comedic look at this taboo subject.
Ko Yun-ju (played by Lee Sung-jae) is an out-of-work lecturer who takes to kidnapping one particularly yappy shih tzu is his apartment complex – only to realise that he’s accidentally fed him into the hands of a dog-meat loving caretaker. Like with much of Bong’s later work (Parasite, The Host), the apartment building becomes a microcosm for Korean society, where ambition is juxtaposed with social hierarchy and class struggles.
THE HOST (2006)
In this 2006 genre mash-up, a lower-middle-class Korean family try to rescue their youngest member from a gigantic sea monster with slimy skin and a prehensile tail, who emerges from the Han river to pulverise the citizens of Seoul, South Korea.
Less Ridley Scott’s Alien via King Kong and Godzilla, and more darkly dysfunctional comedy, The Host is a Ballardian nightmare situated in a cool, ordered technopolis.
Kim Hye-ja stars as the unnamed mother of the title, an unlicensed acupuncturist and parent to son Yoon Do-joon, who has learning difficulties. When a young woman is found dead in their rural South Korean town, the killing is pinned on Do-joon, despite no clear evidence. Convinced her son is innocent, Mother fantastically devotes herself to finding the real culprit and freeing her son from jail in the process. It also has one of the best opening dance sequences, ever.
For his English-language debut, which features the likes of Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and regular Song Kang-ho (who plays the dad in Parasite), Bong turned his attention to a post-apocalyptic Ice Age (casual), where a massive nuclear-powered train relentlessly does laps of the world. Because it’s Bong we’re talking about, the train’s separated by social class, where Evans represents the everyman, and Swinton, the elite. Chaos clearly ensues.
There’s a soft spot in my heart for Okja, a cautionary, tear-jerking eco-tale about genetically modified meat, made digestible through the lens of sci-fi fantasy. In it, Mija, a young South Korean girl, has been raising Okja, a painfully cute super-pig created by Big Scary Corporation Mirando to solve global hunger. In a girl-meets-pig, girl-attempts-to-save-pig narrative, Mija embarks on a heroic journey to save her porcine bestie from the clutches of the evil Tilda Swinton.