Bong Joon Ho Early Life
Bong Joon Ho was born 14 September 1969, in South Korea’s ‘most conservative city’ as the youngest child of an elite artistic family which poured scorn on the movie industry. But the rebellious film fanatic quickly broke out of his middle-class mould to join the fight against a punitive top-down system, and was even arrested for hurling petrol bombs during pro-democracy student protests. Thirty years later, Bong Joon-ho continues his campaign on social inequality – though rather than taking up arms, he portrays oppression through his films, the most recent of which made history at the Oscars last night. With his off-tempo, quirky first feature, Bong Joon-ho marked himself out as a talented newcomer. His second film, a smash hit, established him as a major directorial star. His third set a new box-office record and propelled him to the very top of the Korean film industry. Few Korean directors, if any, have experienced such a rapid rise to stardom.
Parasite, which contrasts an impoverished family with ultra-wealthy neighbours, scooped four awards and was the first non-English language feature to win best picture. Bong, who also took home best director, made an emotional acceptance speech and said: ‘Thank you so much, when I was young and studying cinema there was a saying I carved deep into my heart which is “the most personal is the most creative”.’ This nod to the director’s past as a major influence on his films is backed up by countless interviews by Bong in which he credits his upbringing as shaping his portfolio of works.
Bong Joon Ho Biography and Profile
Bong Joon Ho, born 14 September 1969, in Daegu, which he dubs ‘Korea’s most conservative city’, on the southern side of the Korean peninsula in 1969 as the youngest of four children. Creative flair was rooted in the family – Bong’s maternal grandfather was a renowned novelist while his late father was an artist, and his siblings all went on to be professors in fields of art.
‘I grew up in a middle-class family. Even in terms of real estate, the house that I grew up in is in the middle – between the semi-basement home and the rich house you see in the film. I was really close with friends and relatives from both classes,’ he told the Guardian last month.
Bong says he decided in middle school that he wanted to be a filmmaker, perhaps influenced by his being raised in an artistic family (his father was a designer and his grandfather a noted author).
Bong Joon Ho, an acclaimed South Korean film director and screenwriter, has become a top-tier visionary auteur with a passionate cult following. The term “bongtail,” a combination of his name and ‘detail,’ has been globally embraced by cinephiles to describe his frame-by-frame attentiveness — the product of Bong’s meticulous, webtoon-like storyboards. An American commentator at the Cannes Film Festival wrote, “Bong Joon Ho has become a genre unto himself.”
Bong Joon Ho is a director who takes a great interest in film genres, while simultaneously trying to move beyond genre’s usual boundaries. In this he shares a common approach with a number of other noted Korean filmmakers, such as Kim Jee-woon, Park Chan-wook, and Jang Jun-hwan. He is 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”.
Bong Joon Ho never met a genre he couldn’t subvert. For almost 20 years, the South Korean director has been making movies that span every category. Memories of Murder (2003), the true-crime detective story that made him a star in his country, is notable for how it mixes melancholia with biting satire. The Host (2006), a huge crossover hit, breaks every rule in the monster-movie rule book and is all the better for it. Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017), two English-language sci-fi allegories, are as funny as they are terrifying.
Bong took contributed 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 Iishi Sogo and Hong Kong-based Yu Lik Wai.
So he instead enrolled in Yonsei University’s sociology department, which in the early 1980s was a hotbed for student uprisings against the country’s military regime, which had recently enforced martial law after a government coup. In a world away from his comfortable upbringing, Bong recalls joining his classmates on the streets in demonstration and being tear-gassed. He has also previously confessed to even being arrested for throwing petrol bombs. But he split student activism with movie-making, and produced several short films at the expense of his classes, which he often skipped.
To earn some money, Bong also tutored the child of local wealthy parents, which he claims inspired Parasite. He said: ‘When I was in college I worked as a tutor, and it was a pretty fun and strange experience. I really felt like I was spying on this rich family.’
After a two-year interlude in the army to fulfill his national service duties, Bong graduated from the university and decided to follow his dream career and went to study film. The collapse of the military government allowed Bong to ride a wave of liberalisation sweeping the country.
Bong Joon Ho Education
Bong Joon Ho majored in sociology at Yonsei University. In the early 1990s he was accepted in the two-year program at what many people consider Korea’s top film school, the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA).
Bong Joon Ho Movies
This thrilling, hilarious, yet deeply unsettling film deserves a greater-than-top spot on this list. Since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, “Parasite” has won a number of accolades, breaking records as the first ever South Korean film to win the coveted Palme d’Or by unanimous vote. It burst the Tomatometer on RottenTomatoes, won at the Golden Globes and Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, and is now entering the 92nd Academy Awards with multiple nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Not only has “Parasite” received widespread international acclaim, but this film has become a defining cultural icon of our era.
It is a wily story about infiltration: A poor family scams its way into the lives of a rich family. It tells of class struggle and economic inequality, with a subtle touch of humor and irony. Beyond this angle, the film conceals Bong’s ambition to tell “metaphorical” stories about the decaying human condition. Bong describes “Parasite” as “a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains.” As for plot details, Bong has urged theater-goers to watch the film while knowing as little about it as possible. For that, I’ll keep you in the dark.
Bong Joon Ho: “I have a close friend who’s a stage actor, and he suggested that I try directing a play. Of course, with theater, the space is limited, but for all my previous films we had a lot of locations—like, Okja starts in the deep mountainside [of Korea] and ends in Manhattan. So I was thinking, What story could I tell with just two houses? I came up with the idea of a poor house and a rich house, because at the time I was working on the post-production of Snowpiercer, so I was really enveloped in this story about the gap between the rich and the poor.”
“Aside from Snowpiercer and theater, I was fascinated with this idea of infiltration. When I was in college, I tutored for a rich family, and I got this feeling that I was infiltrating the private lives of complete strangers. Every week I would go into their house, and I thought how fun it would be if I could get all my friends to infiltrate the house one by one.”
“Characters have to eavesdrop and spy on each other. So in terms of character blocking, all the structure was completed during the scriptwriting stage, and I had to basically force it on the production designer. So he felt a little frustrated, because the things I required aren’t things that actual architects would agree with. For me, they were a necessity to tell the story … but that gave [the production designer] an opportunity to focus on the texture and surface of the house, making it feel like it’s owned by this sophisticated, young, rich couple, and this is their way of showing off their taste.”
“For the poor house, the structure was relatively simple. But if the rich house feels like an isolated castle, the poor house couldn’t have any privacy, because this gap between rich and poor really draws from [access to] privacy. All the pedestrians and cars passing by had to be able to see inside the poor family’s semi-basement home. We had no choice but to build the entire neighborhood in a water tank because there’s a flood scene, so at the end we flooded the whole neighborhood.”
The Host (2006)
In Seoul’s Han River, a giant, carnivorous, mutant fish is borne out of American misconduct: A U.S. official commands a Korean lackey to pour toxic chemicals down the drain (a real-life incident that happened in Seoul in 2000, except for the mutant fish part). One fateful day, the creature leaps outside of the waters, terrorizes the city of Seoul, and kidnaps the teenage daughter of a slow-witted young man named Park Gang-doo (played by Song Kang-Ho, who has since appeared in four of Bong’s movies and who plays the Kim family patriarch in “Parasite”).
The Park family gathers to rescue Gang-gu’s daughter, and becomes riled up in a gut-churning, emotionally moving adventure involving government conspiracy, environmental pollution, and tight family bonds. Propelled by a wizardry of scary sequences and special effects, “The Host” was the first of Bong’s films to be played in mainstream movie theaters all over the world.
Mother (Madeo) (2010)
“Mother” is a poetic, heavy-handed masterpiece that centers on an unnamed widow, played by actress Kim Hye-Ja — known to South Korean audiences as an archetypal mother figure — whose mentally challenged adult son is implicated in the killing of a schoolgirl. The titular mother attempts to figure out the truth behind the murder, while struggling with intimate details of her and her son’s past.
The film is known for its off-kilter opening sequence where Kim dances alone in a vast field of yellow grass with an empty, ominous look on her face, setting the tone for the rest of the movie.
Memories of Murder (2003)
“Memories of Murder” is a true-crime detective story based on South Korea’s notorious Hwaseong serial murders, the best-known cold cases in the country. Set in the mid 1980s when South Korea functioned under the rule of a military dictatorship, this film follows two abusive and incompetent police detectives who attempt to uncover the sexual assaults and brutal killings of multiple women. The signature feature is notable for mixing absurdly beautiful sequences of melancholia with biting political satire, launching Bong’s career as an internationally renowned auteur.
A week before “Parasite” opened in the U.S. this past October, a police official revealed that a South Korean man, a prisoner in his 50s, has confessed to ten of the unsolved Hwaseong murders, which had remained a dark stain in the nation’s collective memory. Though the killer could not be prosecuted as the 15-year statute of limitations had already expired in 2006, he is currently serving a life sentence.
Inspired by a French graphic novel, “Snowpiercer” is an action-packed dystopian train film with a stellar cast. Snowpiercer is the name of a high-speed train that zooms around the post-apocalyptically frozen globe. As the only survivors of humankind after a climate engineering experiment gone wrong, the passengers have become segregated by class, with the elite in the lush front cars while the poor are crammed into squalid tail compartments by armed guards.
Chris Evans and Jamie Bell play members of the train’s lower class, and the film starts as they lead a rebellion against the train’s higher classes and advance forward.
“Okja” is a sci-fi refurbishing of the classic “Charlotte’s Web” tale — a young girl befriends a livestock piglet and fights for his life — to mirror a modern age of genetic revolution and multinational consumerism. With scenes spanning from largely naturalistic, bucolic mountaintops to hectic city centers in lower Manhattan, “Okja” delivers a scathing, overtly political statement on the repercussions that occur when humankind manipulate nature for their selfish, commercial ends.
‘I’m not that rich!’
‘In the mid-1990’s the Korean film industry was really open-minded,’ he recalled. His ‘Memories of Murder’ – a 2003 feature film based on real-life serial killings that rattled the nation in the 1980s – was seen as a metaphor for a repressive society under military rule.
Yet despite soon shooting to directing super-stardom, Bong maintains that he lives a modest life. In an interview with the New York Times, he said:
‘I’m not that rich!’ he laughs. ‘I live in an apartment on the ninth floor.’
‘In terms of size, it’s probably around a quarter of the size of the house in the movie.
Bong Joon Ho Awards
Academy Awards 2020: ‘Parasite’ Makes History
“Parasite” made history at the 92nd Academy Awards, becoming the first non-English language film to win best picture, while adding honors for director Bong Joon Ho, original screenplay and the international feature film category. It was a surprising outcome — given that many felt the World War I epic “1917” was the frontrunner — but hardly a complete shock in light of the praise showered on the South Korean thriller by the industry and critics through the awards season. The overwhelmed director graciously singled out his fellow nominees, going so far as to mention using a chainsaw to carve up the statuette and share it with them.
“After winning best international feature, I thought I was done for the day and ready to relax,” Bong Joon Ho joked, via translator.
Once composing himself, the director paid tribute to his fellow nominees.
“When I was young and studying cinema there was saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is ‘the most personal, is the most creative.’ That quote was from our great Martin Scorsese,” he said.
To that, the room got to their feet in a standing ovation.
“Just to be nominated was a huge honor. I never thought I would win,” he said, adding that he wished he could split his trophy in five pieces and share it with his fellow nominees.
Bong Joon Ho Family
Bong Joon Ho Spouse: Jung Sun-young.
- Bong Joon Ho Biography and Profile