Bong Joon-Ho: One Hip Movie Director

The Oral History of Hollywood named Bong Joon-Ho as one hip movie director-actually one of the hippest; and noted that fans who are cool saw Bong’s films when they first were aired in theaters. Writer Adam Nayman has proposed that Bong could be the next Spielberg; aligning his opinion with that of Quentin Tarantino.

The thing is, Bong’s films are intelligent, thought provoking and often controversial. They are also particularly well-crafted. It’s helpful to know that Bong’s Korean nickname sounds like “detail”. He is a student of film, and a film fan, and his eye for detail has been honed by watching some of the finest films made. He is an intellectual, with a keen awareness of people, behaviors, and society. He has used these personal attributes to create films which are famous for their compelling subject matter, dark humor, and sudden reversals of focus and tone.

Bong has numerous awards and films to his credits. His film, The Host, brought his work international recognition, and increased attention to the Korean movie industry. Mother and Snowpiercer brought him numerous awards, financial success, international acclaim and his reputation for brilliant, exciting, thrillers and science fiction films.

Bong’s personality encompasses many things, but his intellect prompts his quirky sense of humor and pointedly defined observations of human nature as seen through the lens of dark circumstances and science fiction possibilities. He’s a man who has not forgotten who Peter Pan is, and is keenly aware of where great stories might take people:

He found the idea for Snowpiercer in his favorite comic book shop.

It was a French graphic novel in 2005 in a bookstore in South Korea. He felt it was lucky for him that South Korea was the only country where the book was published outside of France. He is a big comic book fan, so he found it on one of his regular visits to his favorite comic book shop. He says that he read the book entirely while standing in the shop. As he was walking out of the store, he said to himself that he must make the book into a film. He was intrigued with the idea that the characters were the last to survive on Earth, and that they were traveling according to class on a train. He says he loves trains, too.

He didn’t know that he already had $80 million in the bank when he arrived in Los Angeles on a worldwide publicity tour.
He didn’t know that his box office for Snowpiercer had done so well until his interview. He had already toured through Korea, France, Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, many European countries, and mainland China. He was soon to head through the rest of the United States; listing Austin, New York, San Francisco and more. Los Angeles was the last stop. He doesn’t mind the touring, but the extensive schedule can be tiring. He simply said that his world tours are a bit of a headache.

Criterion asked him to name 10 of his favorite films.

He said it “was torture” to limit himself, because he considers himself to be insatiable when it comes to collecting films. He finally wrote a wish list of 10 Criterion Blu-rays, with commentary, which he would enjoy owning:

  1. The 400 Blows by François Truffaut
  2. Fanny and Alexander -The Theatrical Version by Ingmar Bergman
  3. The Ballad of Narayama by Keisuke Kinoshita
  4. Things to Come by William Cameron Menzies
  5. Lola Montes by Max Ophuls
  6. Nashville by Robert Altman
  7. Life is Sweet by Mike Leigh
  8. The Man Who Fell to Earth by Nicolas Roeg
  9. Rushmore by Wes Anderson
  10. Being John Malkovich by Spike Jonze

He picked out some of his favorite films from the Criterion offices on his way out:

  • Throne of Blood is his favorite of Kurasowa Shakespeare adaptations.
  • Natassja Kinski’s film based on Thomas Hardy’s Tess.-Black Orpheus; he saw as a youngster on Korean TV and it made a big impression on him.
    (His favorite, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece, but he put it back because he already has it.)
  • Oshima Nagis, controversial Japanese master- a compilation of his 1960s films.-His favorite Guillermo del Toro Spanish language film; while mentioning that Pan’s Labyryinth is beautiful too.
  • Medium Cool: he used to have the DVD, but one of his friends swiped it.
  • Repo Man by Alex Cox

He says he is a crazy collector of Blue Ray and DVD. He particularly loves science fiction. He loves his home HD projector and theater speakers. He often gets calls from his neighbors, due to the noise he makes while watching his favorites.

He thinks it’s fun to bury his comments about politics and society “here and there” in his films.

He favored the left-wing, New Progressive Party. The political party merged with the Socialist Party, became defunct in 2012, and became unregistered based on Korean law until 2016. When asked about his politics buried in his films, he mentioned including brief scenes about both Korean and American societies. His main interest, however, is always focused on the central story of his films.

He said the most important scenes in his film Mother were of her face.

He’s interested in the hidden side of people, and says he tends to observe people to see their expressiveness. Exploring duality in people allowed him to show the things which shaped the main character’s personalities. He said it’s the main reason why the film has so many close shots of her face. As he worked with his actors on the film, he tried to discover ambiguous expressions which he could explore in both mother and son, as they struggled with the inevitable sexual tensions inherent in the film. He wanted to have his actors portray characteristics which were not used in their previous roles. Ultimately, he enjoys exploring what actors and actresses can do when challenged to portray completely different roles than they usually do.

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