The first-time director Bong Joon Ho caught many audiences’ attention was probably when his film “Parasite” won the Best Picture Academy Award in 2019. However, if you had seen some of the other works, including Snowpiercer, popularly known as the 2013 bong thriller, before the awards, you may have felt this recognition was on the way coming. The South Korean auteur has led several films spanning sci-fi, action-adventure, detective thriller, monster thriller, dark comedy, and more.
Below, we explore popular Bong Joon Ho films that stand out to date, but first, let’s unearth the filmmaker’s background.
Who’s Bong Joon-Ho?
Bong Joon-Ho is a South Korean filmmaker born in Taegu in the late 60s. Being the youngest of four siblings, Bong blended into a family dominated by the father’s literal and artistic skills. However, he developed an interest in filmmaking after joining secondary school.
During his time at Yonsei University, Bong Joon-Ho worked with the campus newspaper to depict pro-democracy cartoons while pursuing his sociology degree. It’s also worth mentioning that Bong was enrolled in mandatory military service for about two years before graduating in the early 90s.
As a graduate, Bong indulged in films and art through the Korean Academy of Films Art nurturing his skills into what we have today. He spent long hours daily contributing to the country’s film industry, mostly directing movies and writing novels.
By 2000, Bong had mastered enough skills to test the waters. He featured the “Flandersui gae (Barking Dogs Never Bite)” film that focused on a student complaining about a constantly barking dog in his neighborhood. Later, we’ll explore other notable movies and works that Bong has worked on throughout his career.
Fast forward to 2021, when Bong announced that he was working on two scripts for Korean and English audiences. Also, he talked about a soon-to-be-released animation series conceived back in 2018 that involves humans and deep-sea mammals. It’s now clear that Bong’s next film would be titled “Mickey7,” which borrows from Edward Ashton’s novel.
Notable Bong Joon-Ho Thrillers
Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)
This was the feature film for the great Bong Joon-Ho, who was then a graduate of Yonsei University in South Korea. The “Barking Dogs Never Bite” film features a student reacting aggressively to a constantly barking dog in the neighborhood.
Being his first, Bong included a few harsh elements around the edges. Still, it depicted many of his signature styles, themes, and techniques. Watching the film gives you mixed feelings of discomfort and joy.
The most notable aspect of the Barking Dogs Never Bite film is Bong’s framing of characters and his use of lateral and straight-on shots. You’re also likely to notice themes about corruption and capitalism in his country.
Memories of Murder
The 2003 film is inspired by a famous killer who terrorized South Korea in the early aughts. However, no one knew the killer’s name by the time the film premiered, and it only focused on police desperation to halt the menace. In this film, bong’s signature gags and techniques seem refined, and you enjoy the hilarious flying kicks, layered action, ensemble staging, and straight-on shots.
The Memories of Murder film showed substantial development in style, given that this was a sophomore project. It was also the first collaboration between the filmmaker and renowned actor Song Kang Ho.
Bong Joon-Ho developed The Host in 2006, a monster movie that propagated Bong into mainstream stardom. At that time, The Host was named the highest-grossing film of all time in South Korea. The Host is an adventure involving family melodrama, conspiracy thriller, and monster horror. Notably, Bong applies the tension technique, which is seen as a pretext for the Parasite movie discussed here.
Being his fourth film, Bong returns to a more familiar territory through a crime thriller involving a mother and son. The 2009 production recalls elements from Memories of Murder as it focuses on a mother fighting to exonerate his son accused of murder in a small town. Nonetheless, the film follows a unique course guiding viewers toward humanity while displaying the darkest side of our culture. Watching the movie may leave you a bit disturbed or feeling empathetic.
2013 Bong Thriller Snowpiercer
This was the first time Bong Joon-Ho brought his sci-fi talents to an English film. The Snowpiercer is set in a dystopian future with everyone on the earth living in an enclosed train. All that time, the earth is already frozen, giving Bong a proper platform to showcase his unique film styles. His signature themes and lateral shots take center stage as rivals cause mayhem in the train. The film also involved host actors recognizable to the western audience. Generally, the Snowpiercer film is a provocative tale of how critical equilibrium is to humans.
The awards and recognition emanating from Bong’s Snowpiercer film prompted another product catering to the western audience. In 2017, Bong partnered with Netflix to create the Okja film- an action-adventure showing the plight of Korean girls trying to save modified superpigs. The film stays true to the Bong style but includes familiar faces like Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton.
It is in Bong’s 2019 film that his filmography culminated. The Parasite was the first-ever film to clinch the Best Picture Award at the Academy Awards, mainly due to its family status contrast. The film is probably Bong’s peak in his works combining the tonal shifts witnessed in other films discussed here.
Bong Joon-Ho has gripped audiences across the globe and become an award-winning filmmaker. The great works discussed here, as well as other collaborations, are a clear indication of talent and skill. The 2013 Bong thriller and the recent Parasite are some of the films that force us to look to South Korea for a great film director.