Bong Joon-ho in 2013 at the Deauville American Film Festival.
September 14, 1969 |
Daegu, South Korea
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter|
|New Progressive Party|
|Revised Romanization||Bong Jun-ho|
Bong Joon-ho (Hangul: 봉준호; born September 14, 1969) is a South Korean film director and screenwriter. His films include South Korean hits Memories of Murder (2003), based on a true-life serial murder case, 2006 monster movie The Host, and his first English-language film, science fiction adventure Snowpiercer (2013).
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, his films are filled with (often black) humor and sudden mood shifts.
Early life and career
Bong Joon-ho was born in Daegu in 1969 and decided to become a filmmaker while in middle school. 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 was then a fan of Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Shohei Imamura. 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. 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 — most notably as cinematographer on 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.
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 (along 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. 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. It was released in April 2003and proved an immediate critical and popular success. Enthusiastic word of mouth drove the film to sell over five 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 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 around 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 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 1800 screens) and set a new box-office record with 13 million tickets sold.
In 2008, Bong along with Michel Gondry and French director Leos Carax, 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 a decade as a "hikikomori" — the term used in Japan for people unable to adjust to society who don't leave their homes — and what happens when he falls in love with a pizza delivery girl.
Bon'gs 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. Mother 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. 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 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.
Set largely on a futuristic train where those on board are separated according to their social status, the action adventure was met with near-universal praise and strong ticket sales, both in South Korea and abroad. As of July 2014, the film had a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 94 per cent critical approval.
- 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)
- Sea Fog (2014)
- 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)
- 2013 Blue Dragon Film Awards: Best Director, for Snowpiercer
- 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 Director's Cut Awards: Best Director, for 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
- 2000 Director's Cut Awards: Best New Director, for 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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- 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.
- "Snowpiercer". Metacritic. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
- "Box Office: July 25-August 7, 2013". Retrieved 2014-04-12.
- 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