Bong Joon-ho

Bong Joon-ho (Korean봉준호, Korean pronunciation: [poːŋ tɕuːnho → poːŋdʑunɦo]; born September 14, 1969) is a South Korean filmmaker. His films feature social themes, genre-mixing, black humor, and sudden mood shifts. In 2017, Metacritic ranked Bong 13th on its list of the 25 best film directors of the 21st century.

Bong first gained recognition for his second feature film, the crime drama Memories of Murder (2003), before achieving commercial success with his subsequent films, the monster film The Host (2006) and the dystopian thriller Snowpiercer (2013), both of which are among the highest-grossing films in South Korea.

Two of his films have screened in competition at the Cannes Film FestivalOkja in 2017 and Parasite in 2019, the latter of which earned the first Palme d'Or for a South Korean film. For Parasite, Bong received Academy Awards for Best Picture (shared with Kwak Sin-ae), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (shared with Han Jin-won), and, on behalf of South Korea, Best International Feature Film.

Early life

Bong Joon-ho was born in Daegu, South Korea, in 1969, the youngest of four children. His father was Bong Sang-gyun, a graphic and industrial designer and professor, while his mother Park So-young was a full-time housewife. Bong's maternal grandfather, Park Taewon, was an esteemed author during the Japanese colonial period, best known for his work A Day in the Life of Kubo the Novelist and his defection to North Korea in 1950. Bong's older brother Bong Joon-soo is an English professor at the Seoul National University, while his older sister Bong Ji-hee teaches fashion styling at Anyang University.

While Bong was in elementary school, the family relocated to Seoul, taking up residence in Jamsil-dong by the Han River. Bong enrolled in Yonsei University in 1988, majoring in sociology. College campuses such as Yonsei's were then hotbeds for the South Korean democracy movement, and Bong was an active participant of student demonstrations, frequently subjected to tear gas early in his college years.

Bong served a two-year term in the military in accordance with South Korea's compulsory military service before returning to college in 1992. He co-founded a film club named Yellow Door with students from neighboring universities. As a member of the club, Bong made his first films, including a stop-motion short titled Looking for Paradise and a 16mm short titled White Man. He graduated from Yonsei University in 1995.

In the early 1990s, Bong completed a two-year program at the Korean Academy of Film Arts. While there, he made many 16mm short films. His graduation films Memory Within the Frame and Incoherence were invited to screen at the Vancouver and Hong Kong international film festivals. He also collaborated on several works with his classmates — which included working as cinematographer on the highly acclaimed short 2001 Imagine, directed by his friend Jang Joon-hwan. Aside from cinematography on Hur Jae-young's short A Hat, Bong was also lighting director on an early short Sounds From Heaven and Earth by Choi Equan, and The Love of a Grape Seed. Bong studied Martin Scorsese films and cited him as one of his major filmmaking influences in his Academy Award for Best Director acceptance speech for Parasite.

Career

After graduating, he spent the next five years contributing in various capacities to works by other directors. He received a partial screenplay credit on the anthology film Seven Reasons Why Beer is Better Than a Lover (1996); both screenplay and assistant director credits on Park Ki-yong's debut Motel Cactus (1997); and is one of four writers (along with Jang Joon-hwan) credited for the screenplay of Phantom the Submarine (1999).

Early directing work

Shortly afterwards, Bong began shooting his first feature Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) under producer Cha Seung-jae, who had overseen the production of both Motel Cactus and Phantom the Submarine. The film, about a low-ranking university lecturer who abducts a neighbor's dog, was shot in the same apartment complex where Bong had lived after his marriage. At the time of its release in February 2000, it received little commercial interest but some positive critical reviews. It was invited to the competition section of Spain's San Sebastián International Film Festival, and won awards at Slamdance Film Festival and Hong Kong International Film Festival. Slowly building international word of mouth also helped the film financially — over two years after its local release, the film reached its financial break-even point due to sales to overseas territories.

Bong's second film, Memories of Murder (2003), a much larger project, was adapted from a stage play centered on a real-life serial killer who terrorized a rural town in the 1980s and was never caught (although a suspect confessed to the crime in 2019). Production of the film was a difficult process (the film set a local record for the number of locations it utilized). It was released in April 2003 and proved a critical and popular success. Word of mouth drove the film to sell over five million tickets (rescuing Cha Seung-jae's production company Sidus from near-bankruptcy), and a string of local honors followed, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Song Kang-ho) and Best Lighting prizes at the 2003 Grand Bell Awards. Although passed over by the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, the film eventually received its international premiere, again at San Sebastián, where it picked up three awards including Best Director. The film also received an unusually strong critical reception on its release in foreign territories such as France and the U.S.

Bong at the 25th Independent Spirit Awards on March 5, 2010

Following this, Bong took some time to contribute short films to two anthology film projects. Influenza (2004) is a 30-minute work acted out entirely in front of real CCTV cameras stationed throughout Seoul. The film, which charts a desperate man's turn to violent crime over the space of five years, was commissioned by the Jeonju International Film Festival, together with works by Japanese director Sogo Ishii and Hong Kong-based Yu Lik-wai. Twentidentity, meanwhile, is a 20-part anthology film made by alumni of the Korean Academy of Film Arts, on the occasion of the school's 20th anniversary. Bong's contribution is Sink & Rise (2003), a work set alongside the Han River.

International success

The Host (2006) marked a step up in scale in Bong's career, and indeed for the Korean film industry as a whole. The big-budget ($12 million) work centered on a fictional monster that rises up out of the Han River to wreak havoc on the people of Seoul — and on one family in particular. Featuring many of the actors who had appeared in his previous films, the film was the focus of strong audience interest even before it started shooting, but many doubts were raised[by whom?] about whether a Korean production could rise to the challenge of creating a full-fledged, believable digital monster. After initially contacting New Zealand's Weta Digital — the company responsible for the CGI in The Lord of the Rings — scheduling conflicts led Bong to San Francisco-based The Orphanage, who took on the majority of the effects work. After rushing to meet deadlines, the film received a rapturous premiere in the Directors' Fortnight section of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Although local audiences were slightly more critical of The Host than attendees at Cannes, the film was nonetheless a major summer hit. With theater owners calling for more and more prints, the film enjoyed South Korea's widest release ever (on over a third of the nation's 1,800 screens) and set a new box-office record with 13 million tickets sold. The Host was quickly sold around the world, and US studio Universal bought the remake rights.

Bong along with Michel Gondry and French director Leos Carax, directed a segment of Tokyo! (2008), a triptych feature telling three separate tales of the city. Bong's segment is about a man who has lived for a decade as a "hikikomori" — the term used in Japan for people unable to adjust to society who do not leave their homes — and what happens when he falls in love with a pizza delivery girl.

Bong's fourth feature film Mother (2009) is the story of a doting mother who struggles to save her disabled son from a murder accusation. It premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival to much acclaim, particularly for actress Kim Hye-ja. Mother repeated its critical success locally and in the international film festival circuit. The film appeared on many film critics' "best-of" lists of 2010.

In 2011, Bong contributed to 3.11 A Sense of Home, another anthology film, each segment being 3 minutes 11 seconds in duration, addressing the theme of home. The films were made by 21 filmmakers in response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit the Tohoku region of Japan on March 11, 2011. The film screened on the first anniversary of the disaster. In Bong's short film Iki, a teenage girl finds a toddler, seemingly dead, on a beach.

That same year, Bong served as a jury member for the 27th Sundance Film Festival. He was also the head of the jury for the Caméra d'Or section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and the 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

American co-productions

Bong's first English-language film, Snowpiercer, was released in 2013. It is based on the graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, by Jean-Marc Rochette and Jacques Lob, and set largely on a futuristic train where those on board are separated according to their social status. Snowpiercer premiered at the Times Square on July 29, 2013 in Seoul, South Korea, before screening at the Deauville American Film Festival as the closing film on September 7, 2013, the Berlin International Film Festival as the part of Berlin's Forum sidebar on February 7, 2014, opening the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 11, 2014, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 22, 2014. Upon release in cinemas, the film was met with near-universal praise and strong ticket sales, both in South Korea and abroad. As of April 2014, it is the tenth highest-grossing domestic film in South Korea, with 9,350,141 admissions. The film holds the domestic record for the fastest movie (domestic and foreign) to reach four million admissions, which it achieved in its fifth day after premiere, and another record for the highest weekend figure (from Friday to Sunday) for a Korean film, with 2.26 million viewers. In addition to receiving several awards and nominations, Snowpiercer appeared on several critics' lists of the ten best films of 2014.

In 2015, Bong's next film Okja was announced. On April 30, 2015, screenwriter Jon Ronson announced on his Twitter account that he was writing the second draft of Bong's screenplay for the film. Darius Khondji joined the film as cinematographer in February 2016. Filming for the project began in April 2016.

Okja premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or and sparked controversy due to it being produced by Netflix. The film was met with boos, mixed with applause, during a press screening at the film festival, once when the Netflix logo appeared on screen and again during a technical glitch (which meant the film was projected in an incorrect aspect ratio for its first seven minutes). The festival later issued an apology to the filmmakers. However, despite the studio's negative response, the film itself received a four-minute standing ovation following its actual premiere. The film was later released on Netflix on June 28, 2017, and received positive reviews. On the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 86% based on 223 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.54/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Okja sees Bong Joon-ho continuing to create defiantly eclectic entertainment – and still hitting more than enough of his narrative targets in the midst of a tricky tonal juggling act." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 75 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". New York Times critic A. O. Scott wrote, "Okja is a miracle of imagination and technique, and Okja insists, with abundant mischief and absolute sincerity, that she possesses a soul."

Parasite (2019)

Bong at the Munich International Film Festival in July 2019

Bong directed the full Korean-language film Parasite (2019), a dark comedy thriller about a poor family that infiltrates a wealthy household by gaining employment as staff. The film premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d'Or, becoming the first Korean film to receive the award and the first film to do so with a unanimous vote since Blue Is the Warmest Colour at the 2013 Festival. The film won the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize at the Sydney Film Festival. At Sydney, Parasite was in competition alongside 11 other features from countries such as North Macedonia, Brazil and Spain, and Australian entrants Mirrah Foulkes's Judy and Punch and Ben Lawrence­'s Hearts and Bones.

Parasite was released in South Korea by CJ Entertainment on May 30, 2019, and in the United States by Neon in late-2019. It received widespread critical acclaim and earned $115 million at the worldwide box office, becoming Bong's highest-grossing release. For Parasite, Bong was nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, with the film itself winning the Best Foreign Language Film. This was the first Golden Globe nomination (and win) for any South Korean film. Parasite also became the first non-English-language film to win the top prize at the American Cinema Editors Awards, when editor Yang Jin-mo won for Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic.

At the 73rd British Academy Film Awards, the movie Parasite was nominated in 4 categories, then received awards in 2 categories. Then Director Bong and the movie Parasite was nominated in 11 categories in the 2020 Gold Derby Awards, and received awards in 6 categories, including Gold Derby Award for Best Motion Picture. Also the International Cinephile Society nominated Director Bong and the movie Parasite in 8 categories, and awarded him 3 awards among those categories.

At the 92nd Academy Awards, Parasite became the first South Korean film to receive an Academy Award nomination in any category, receiving a total of six nominations and winning Bong the Best Picture (shared with Kwak Sin-ae), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (shared with Han Jin-won), and Best International Feature Film. It was the first time a non-English language film won Best Picture. It was also the first time Asian writers won screenwriting Academy Awards.

Personal life

Bong was a member of the now defunct New Progressive Party. He has also voiced support for its predecessor, the Democratic Labor Party.

Filmography

Feature film

Television

Short films

Acting

Documentary appearances

Filmography source: Korean Movie Database

Awards and nominations

Frequent collaborators

See also

External links

Uses material from the Wikipedia article "Bong Joon-ho", released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.