Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bong Joon-Ho: Master of menace

From creature features to pet pilfering, meddling mothers to scary psychos, renowned filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho has built a brief but accomplished career out of mastering the menacing side of society. With just four features - and box office records, international awards, and a plethora of critical acclaim - to his name in a film career spanning a mere decade, he has become established as Korea’s star auteur thanks to his unique combination of quirky humour and resounding humanity whilst traversing the darker side of human (and animal, and monster) life.

Making his debut with the black social satire Barking Dogs Never Bite, Joon-Ho delved into Asian folklore and animal cruelty in an unlikely on-screen adaption of the traditional tale "A Dog Of Flanders". Earning the FIPRESCI prize at the 2001 Hong Kong International Film Festival (for combining a popular approach with a biting yet humorous observation of middle class life), it announced his status as one to watch - a status confirmed by 2003’s Grand Bell, San Sebasti├ín and Tokyo International Film Festival award winning thriller Memories Of Murder, based on the true story of the country’s first known serial killings.

Yet despite achieving undoubted worldwide success on the strength of his first two features, it was 2006’s record-breaking big budget monster movie The Host that truly put Joon-Ho on the filmmaking map. Instantly claimed as the best genre offering ever made and one of the greatest pieces of world cinema to grace the big screen, it smashed box office takings in its native Korea (seen thirteen million times and ranking as the highest grossing South Korean film of all time) whilst making the top ten lists of critics everywhere (and receiving ample silverware) in an effort both fun, frightening and downright fantastic.

"Tokyo" directors Bong, Carax and Gondry

Joon-Ho’s most recent effort, the 2009 release Mother, marks yet another change of topic but remains true to his spirit of slightly off-centre experimentation. A psychological murder mystery grounded within a family dynamic of Hitchcockian proportions, it is an intelligent, intricate, and unconventional addition to the crime genre in the finest film in his current repertoire.

Thankfully, with a rumoured American effort produced by Lost creator J.J. Abrams on the cards, a 3-D sequel to The Host the subject of speculation, and an adaptation of French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige" as Snow Piercer in the works, we have not seen the last of the director’s trademark exploration of the impending and unexpected. Indeed, as he moves towards the realms of mainstream cinema, one can only look forward to more menacing from the undisputed master.

Sarah is the Editor of DVD Bits and The Reel Bits. She can be found on Twitter at @swardplay, and contacted via email at

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