Bong Joon-ho in 2013 at the Deauville American Film Festival.
September 14, 1969 |
Daegu, South Korea
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter|
|Political party||New Progressive Party|
|Revised Romanization||Bong Jun-ho|
Bong in general is known as being a director who takes a great interest in film genres, while simultaneously trying to move beyond genre's usual boundaries. Also known for the pure craft and finished quality of his works, Korean film industry insiders have nicknamed him "Bong Tae-il," which, pronounced in Korean, sounds similar to the word "detail". Though he displays a fascination for strong subject matter, at the same time, his films are filled with (often black) humor and sudden mood shifts, making for an emotional roller coaster ride. The fact that he is able to combine all these contrasting elements into such a smooth whole is Bong's particular strength as a filmmaker.
Bong Joon-ho was born in Daegu in 1969 and decided to become a filmmaker while in middle school, perhaps influenced by an artistic family (his father was a designer and his grandfather was a noted author.) He majored in sociology in Yonsei University in the late 1980s and was a member of the film club there. He liked Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Shohei Imamura at the time. In the early 1990s, he completed a two-year program at the Korean Academy of Film Arts. While there, he made many 16mm short films and his graduation work 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 of his classmates—most notably 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 another short The Love of a Grape Seed.
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 1996 omnibus film Seven Reasons Why Beer is Better Than a Lover; both screenplay and assistant director credits on Park Ki-yong's 1997 debut Motel Cactus; and is one of four writers (together with Jang Joon-hwan) credited for the screenplay of Phantom the Submarine (1999).
Shortly afterwards Bong began shooting his first feature Barking Dogs Never Bite under producer Tcha Seung-jai, 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 getting married. Although now remembered fondly, at the time of its release in February 2000 it did not stir up much interest among audiences, and the response from critics was positive but slightly muted. Nonetheless, the film was invited to the competition section of Spain's prestigious San Sebastian International Film Festival, and it would go on to win awards at Slamdance and Hong Kong. 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, a much larger-scale project, was adapted from a popular stage play centered around a real-life serial killer who terrorized a rural town in the 1980s (and was never caught). Production of the film was a long and arduous process (the film set a local record for the sheer number of locations it utilized), but with the weather providing unexpected help with some stunning skyscapes, the film wrapped without major problems and was released in April 2003. It was an immediate critical and popular sensation. Enthusiastic word of mouth drove the film to sell over 5 million tickets (rescuing Tcha Seung-jai'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 Sebastian, 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.
Following this, Bong took some time to contribute short films to two omnibus projects. Influenza is a disturbing 30-minute work acted out entirely in front of real CCTV cameras stationed throughout Seoul. The film, which charts (from a distance, quite literally) 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 omnibus 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, a whimsical work set alongside the Han River that can be seen as a warmup for the director's third feature.
The Host marked a newly ambitious gamble in Bong's career, and indeed for the Korean film industry as a whole. The big-budget ($12 million) work centered around a fictional monster that rises up out of the Han River and wreaks 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 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—schedule 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 must-see event during its summer release. With theater owners calling for more and more prints, the film enjoyed the widest release ever (on over a third of the nation's 1800 screens) and set a new box-office record with 13 million tickets sold. The film was quickly sold around the world, and US studio Universal even snapped up remake rights to the picture.
In 2008, Bong along with Michel Gondry and Leos Carax each directed a segment of Tokyo!, a triptych feature telling three separate tales of the city. Bong's segment is about a man who has lived for 10 years as a "hikikomori"—the term used in Japan for people unable to adjust to society and so never leave their homes—and what happens when he falls in love one day with a pizza delivery girl.
His fourth feature film Mother 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 2009 Cannes Film Festival to much acclaim, particularly for actress Kim Hye-ja, and repeated its critical success locally and in the international film festival circuit.
In 2011, Bong contributed to 3.11 A Sense of Home, an anthology of films, all 3 minutes 11 seconds in duration, addressing the theme of home, 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 year 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.
- Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)
- Memories of Murder (2003)
- The Host (2006)
- Mother (2009)
- Snowpiercer (2013)
- Baeksekin (aka White Man, 1994)
- Memory Within the Frame (1994)
- Incoherence (1994)
- Sink & Rise (segment from Twentidentity) (2003)
- Influenza (segment from Digital Short Films by Three Directors) (2004)
- Shaking Tokyo (segment from Tokyo!) (2008)
- Iki (segment from 3.11 A Sense of Home) (2011)
- Seven Reasons Why Beer is Better Than a Lover (1996)
- Motel Cactus (1997)
- Phantom the Submarine (1999)
- Antarctic Journal (2005)
- Incoherence (short film, 1994)
- No Blood No Tears (2002) (cameo)
- Crush and Blush (2008) (cameo)
- Can I Borrow a Light (short film, 2009)
- Doomsday Book (2012) (cameo)
- Two or Three Things I Know about Kim Ki-young (2006)
- Ari Ari the Korean Cinema (2012)
- 2010 Asian Film Awards: Best Film, Best Screenplay, for Mother
- 2009 Dubai International Film Festival: Best Screenplay, for Mother
- 2009 Mar del Plata Film Festival: SIGNIS Award, for Mother
- 2009 Blue Dragon Film Awards: Best Film, to Mother
- 2009 Busan Film Critics Awards: Best Film, to Mother
- 2007 Fantasporto: Best Director, for The Host
- 2007 Grand Bell Awards: Best Director, for The Host
- 2007 Baeksang Arts Awards: Best Film, to The Host
- 2007 Asian Film Awards: Best Film, to The Host
- 2006 Korean Film Awards: Best Director, for The Host
- 2006 Blue Dragon Film Awards: Best Film, to The Host
- 2006 Busan Film Critics Awards: Special Jury Prize, for The Host
- 2006 Sitges Film Festival: Orient Express Award for Best Asian Film, to The Host
- 2004 Festival du Film Policier de Cognac: Grand Prix, to Memories of Murder
- 2003 Korean Film Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay for Memories of Murder
- 2003 Blue Dragon Film Awards: Best Film, to Memories of Murder
- 2003 Grand Bell Awards: Best Film, Best Director, for Memories of Murder
- 2003 San Sebastian International Film Festival: Silver Shell for Best Director, Altadis New Director Award, and FIPRESCI Award, to Memories of Murder
- 2003 Torino Film Festival: Best Screenplay, Audience Award, for Memories of Murder
- 2003 Tokyo International Film Festival: Asian Film Award, to Memories of Murder
- 2003 Busan Film Critics Awards: Best Director, Best Screenplay for Memories of Murder
- 2001 Hong Kong International Film Festival: FIPRESCI Award for young Asian filmmakers, to Barking Dogs Never Bite
|Actor||Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)||Memories of Murder (2003)||The Host (2006)||Mother (2009)||Snowpiercer (2013)|
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- Kim, Young-gyo (27 May 2008). "Film adaptation of French dystopian comic to go global: Bong". Yonhap. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- Noh, Jean (17 July 2012). "Bong Joon-ho wraps Snow Piercer in Prague". Screen International. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- Schou, Solvej (29 October 2012). "Coming to America: South Korea's top directors on hitting Hollywood with English language films". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- Paquet, Darcy (30 April 2013). "What SNOWPIERCER Means to the Korean Film Industry: PART 1 - The summit of KOREAN Film's ambition". Korean Cinema Today. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
- Bechervaise, Jason (30 April 2013). "BONG Joon-ho, Director of SNOWPIERCER: PART 2 - INTERVIEW "I wanted to make a very exciting train and sci-fi movie"". Korean Cinema Today. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
- Bong Joon-ho at Naver (Korean)
- Bong Joon-ho at the Korean Movie Database
- Bong Joon-ho at the Internet Movie Database
- Podcast: Q&A with Director Bong Joon-ho about The Host at The Korea Society