After the intense buzz and hundreds of praise received by his recent movie Parasite — including the first-ever non-English film to win Best Picture at the recent Academy Awards — Korean director Bong Joon-Ho has become a global household name. His brilliant storytelling captured audiences for its universal themes covering class and greed, all while dressed in both a comedy and a thriller genre. But in case you're still wondering, yes, Bong is anything but a one-hit-wonder.
In fact, prior to his Parasite success, he had already developed an impressive portfolio of films following the same brilliant satirical approach, making him a favourite among avid film lovers. Craving to see more of his work? Join the #BongHive with our list of films to see from Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho.
Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)
Barking Dogs Never Bite official trailer
For his directorial debut, Bong showed his love for dark comedy-dramas in this 2000 film. Following the story of an out-of-work professor who gets in a series of conundrums after mistakenly kidnapping a dog whose bark annoyed him, the plot starts off a bit light and funny, only to somehow evolve into a story about reaching and achieving dreams. Sounds peculiar, right? All the more reason to see it. Bong's craftiness in creating a plot that sounds so far-fetched from its true message — while still making it cohesive — shone brilliantly in this film. After seeing this, you'd definitely understand why he went on to create more great films within the same vibe and rhythm.
Memories of Murder (2003)
Memories of Murder official trailer
Next on our list is probably one of the films that started the #BongHive. Ask any Bong Joon-Ho fan on what their favourite film of his prior to Parasite and Memories of Murder would most likely pop on their list. Similar to directors like Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan who found their 'muses' in certain actors (Johnny Depp for Burton and Christian Bale for Nolan), Bong found his in actor Song Kang-ho. The South Korean actor first worked with the director in this project, only to become a mainstay in many of his succeeding works like The Host, Snowpiercer, and of course, Parasite (as the head of the Kim family, Kim Ki-taek).
Based on true events, Memories of Murder follow two detectives in their quest to solve a series of murders that happened in South Korea from 1986 to 1991. The film earned critical acclaim for its storytelling and cinematography, earning both Bong and Song multiple local and international recognition, including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor from the Grand Bell Awards, Tokyo International Film Festival, and many others.
The Host (2006)
The Host official trailer
With Korean movies and dramas starting to earn traction post-2005, The Host is probably one of Bong's earliest work that is familiar to more global audiences. Again starring Song Kang-ho, the movie follows a man's quest to rescue his daughter from being kidnapped by a mutated monster. While it seems outside of Bong's initial filmography, the way the director tackles socio-political criticism in the film is still strongly intact. It provides commentary on the South Korean government, the U.S. military presence in the country, as well the youth's role in pursuing social justice — including its imperfections — in an adrenaline-packed fictional narrative. If you're already a K-culture fan, missing this film is definitely a disservice!
Mother official trailer
This 2009 film is just one of the many South Korean movies and dramas that aim to address the stigma and social prejudice against the mentally disabled in the country. But while Lee Hwan-kyung's Miracle In Cell No. 7 portrayed the topic as a dramedy, Bong Joon-ho's take in Mother is undoubtedly darker, following the pattern of his signature thrillers. Kim Hye-ja plays the titular role, being the only guardian of her mentally disabled son Do-joon. One day, Do-joon gets accused of murdering a girl in their local neighbourhood, and his unnamed mother goes off to find ways to prove his innocence.
The brilliance of the films lies on its unpredictability, where you think that you already know the right answer, only to be proven wrong two, three, and even more times. The way Bong also left Mother's character to be unnamed also gives a sense of universality, showing just to how much extent a mother's love can go in the name of her children. Similar to Parasite, Mother's ending delivers both hope and despair in the most subtle yet heart-wrenching way, leaving more to think about even as the credits start rolling.
Snowpiercer official trailer
It may be his first time breaking through Hollywood's award shows this year, but Hollywood is already no stranger to Bong Joon-ho. It's even quite surprising why he only received his nominations recently, especially with a film like Snowpiercer in this portfolio. Starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt — of course, along with Bong's muse Song Kang Ho — the film revolves around a post-apocalyptic setting posing the aftermath of global warming. With humanity bound in the confines of the Snowpiercer train, which carries what's left of humanity, the train gets segregated into class, where the poor have to fight to get their fill of resources.
Bong shines once again in his creativity in portraying relatable topics in a reimagined form, all while not losing its essence in an action-packed narrative. Song Kang-ho was also speaking in Korean the entire time in this movie, providing contrast against his English-speaking co-actors. This provided a realistic approach on language barriers and cultural differences especially given a post-apocalyptic setup. It removed the idea that everyone just happens to know how to speak English (or Korean) as with other films, but rather made use of other cues to portray interactions between these characters. Talk about a foreshadowing of Bong Joon-Ho's own win in this year's awards season, in which he made his speeches in Korean among an English-speaking audience.
Last but not least on our list is Okja. Almost a decade after The Host, Bong Joon-Ho came back with another monster-related fiction film following another adventure-drama genre. However, unlike his 2006 movie where the monster is an enemy, Okja follows the unlikely friendship between a girl and a genetically-modified super pig.
Giving a direct criticism on capitalism and environmental exploitation, Bong Joon-Ho yet again proves that mind-opening stories need not be purely dramatic, but can also take the form of a beautifully imaginative action-adventure. It's quite a stretch to call this one Bong's finest work when contrasted with Memories of Murder and Mother, but it is definitely one of the most entertaining and even youth-friendly films of his that fits almost every age bracket. If you're looking for a lighter Bong film to watch, this is definitely it.
"Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films," Bong said in his Golden Globes speech. And oh, how true. These films are only the beginning.
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