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Bong Joon-ho

Bong Joon-ho

South Korean film director and screenwriter
Bong Joon-ho
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro South Korean film director and screenwriter
A.K.A. Bong Jun-ho, Bong Joon Ho
Is Film director Screenwriter Politician
From South Korea
Type Film, TV, Stage & Radio Politics
Gender male
Birth 14 September 1969, Daegu, South Korea
Age 51 years
Star sign Virgo
Politics New Progressive Party
Peoplepill ID bong-joon-ho
The details


Bong Joon-ho (Korean: 봉준호, [poːŋ tɕuːnho → poːŋdʑunɦo]; born September 14, 1969) is a South Korean film director and screenwriter. He garnered international acclaim for his second feature film, the crime drama Memories of Murder (2003), before achieving commercial success with his subsequent films, the black comedy monster movie The Host (2006) and the sci-fi action Snowpiercer (2013), both of which are among the highest-grossing films of all time in South Korea.

Two of his films have screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival—Okja, which premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and Parasite, which won the Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. He became the first Korean director to win the Palme d'Or. Parasite also won Best Foreign Language Film at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, with Bong also receiving nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay for his work. Upon being nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, Parasite became the first South Korean film to receive an Academy Award nomination in any category; for his work on the film, Bong received Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, and Best Picture, becoming the first Asian filmmaker to receive all four awards for one film. Bong is the fifth Asian filmmaker following Hiroshi Teshigahara, Akira Kurosawa, M. Night Shyamalan, and Ang Lee to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, the second to win, and the first South Korean filmmaker nominated for an Academy Award.

In 2017, Metacritic ranked Bong sixteenth on its list of the 25 best film directors of the 21st century. His films feature social themes, genre-mixing, black humor, and sudden mood shifts.

Early life

Bong Joon-ho was born in Daegu, South Korea in 1969, the youngest of four children. His father was Bong Sang-gyun, a graphic and industrial designer and professor, while his mother Park So-young was a full-time housewife. Bong's maternal grandfather, Park Taewon, was an esteemed author during the Japanese colonial period, most famous for his work A Day in the Life of Gubo the Novelist and his defection to North Korea in 1950. Bong's older brother Bong Joon-soo is an English professor at the Seoul National University, while his older sister Bong Ji-hee teaches fashion styling at Anyang University.

While Bong was in elementary school, the family relocated to Seoul, taking up residence in Jamsil-dong by the Han River. Bong enrolled in Yonsei University in 1988, majoring in sociology. College campuses such as Yonsei's were then hotbeds for the South Korean democracy movement, and Bong was an active participant of student demonstrations, frequently subjected to tear gas early in his college years.

Bong served a two-year term in the military in accordance with South Korea's compulsory military service before returning to college in 1992. He co-founded a film club named Yellow Door with students from neighboring universities. As a member of the club, Bong made his first films, including a stop-motion short titled Looking for Paradise and a 16mm short titled White Man. He graduated from Yonsei University in 1995.

In the early 1990s, Bong 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 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 The Love of a Grape Seed. Bong studied Martin Scorsese films and cited Quentin Tarantino as one of his major filmmaking influences.


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).

Early directing work

Shortly afterwards, Bong began shooting his first feature Barking Dogs Never Bite under producer Cha Seung-jae, 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 Film Festival and Hong Kong International Film Festival. 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 on a real-life serial killer who terrorized a rural town in the 1980s and was never caught, although a suspect confessed to the crime in 2019. Production of the film was a long and arduous process (the film set a local record for the sheer number of locations it utilized). It was released in April 2003 and proved an immediate critical and popular success. Enthusiastic word of mouth drove the film to sell over five million tickets (rescuing Cha Seung-jae'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.

International success

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 on 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. The Host was quickly sold around the world, and US studio Universal bought the remake rights.

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.

Bong's 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. The film appeared on many film critics' "best-of" lists of 2010.

In 2011, Bong contributed to 3.11 A Sense of Home, an anthology of films, each 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 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.

In 2013, Bong released his first English-language film Snowpiercer, based on the graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jean-Marc Rochette and Jacques Lob, and set largely on a futuristic train where those on board are separated according to their social status. Snowpiercer premiered at the Times Square on 29 July 2013 in Seoul, South Korea, before screening at the Deauville American Film Festival as the closing film on 7 September 2013, the Berlin International Film Festival as the part of Berlin's Forum sidebar on 7 February 2014, opening the Los Angeles Film Festival on 11 June 2014, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 22 June 2014. Upon release in cinemas, the film was met with near-universal praise and strong ticket sales, both in South Korea and abroad. As of April 2014, it is the tenth highest-grossing domestic film in South Korea, with 9,350,141 admissions. The film holds the domestic record for the fastest movie (domestic and foreign) to reach four million admissions, which it achieved in its fifth day after premiere, and another record for the highest weekend figure (from Friday to Sunday) for a Korean film, with 2.26 million viewers. In addition to receiving several awards and nominations, Snowpiercer appeared on several critics' lists of the ten best films of 2014.

In 2015, Bong's next film Okja was announced. On April 30, 2015, screenwriter Jon Ronson announced on his Twitter account that he was writing the second draft of Bong's screenplay for the film. Darius Khondji joined the film as cinematographer in February 2016. Filming for the project began in April, 2016.

In 2017, Bong premiered Okja at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or and sparked controversy due to it being produced by Netflix. The film was met with boos, mixed with applause, during a press screening at the film festival, once when the Netflix logo appeared on screen and again during a technical glitch (which got the movie projected in an incorrect aspect ratio for its first seven minutes). The festival later issued an apology to the filmmakers. However, despite the studio's negative response, the film itself received a four-minute standing ovation following its actual premiere. The film was later released on Netflix on June 28, 2017, and received positive reviews. On the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 84% based on 125 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Okja sees Bong Joon-ho continuing to create defiantly eclectic entertainment – and still hitting more than enough of his narrative targets in the midst of a tricky tonal juggling act." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 76 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". New York Times critic A.O. Scott wrote, "Okja is a miracle of imagination and technique, and Okja insists, with abundant mischief and absolute sincerity, that she possesses a soul."

Bong Joon-ho at the Munich International Film Festival in July 2019

In 2019, Bong directed the full Korean-language film Parasite, a comedy thriller about a poor family that insinuates itself into a wealthy household. The film premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or, becoming the first Korean film to receive the award and the first film to do so with a unanimous vote since 2013's Blue Is the Warmest Colour. It was subsequently selected as the South Korean entry for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards. The film also won the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize at the Sydney Film Festival. At Sydney, Parasite was in competition alongside 11 other features from countries such as North Macedonia, Brazil and Spain, and Australian entrants Mirrah Foulkes's Judy & Punch and Ben Lawrence­’s Hearts and Bones.

Parasite was released in South Korea by CJ Entertainment on 30 May 2019, and in the rest of the world by Neon in late-2019. It received widespread critical acclaim and earned $115 million at the worldwide box office, becoming Bong's highest-grossing release. For Parasite, Bong was nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, with the film itself winning Best Foreign Language Film. At the 92nd Academy Awards, Parasite became the first South Korean film to receive an Academy Award nomination in any category, receiving a total of six nominations and winning Best International Feature Film, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.


Frequent collaborators

Actor Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) Memories of Murder (2003) The Host (2006) Mother (2009) Snowpiercer (2013) Okja (2017) Parasite (2019)
Bae Doona
Byun Hee-bong
Song Kang-ho
Park Hae-il
Go Ah-sung
Yoon Je-moon
Kim Roi-ha
Park No-shik
Jeon Mi-seon
Go Soo-hee
Paul Lazar
Tilda Swinton
Choi Woo-shik
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 10 Feb 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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