Bong Joon Ho. Bong Joon Ho is a master of genre blending who has now made an impressive six archiveable films since his debut in 2000. They are often entertaining treatises on the class divide– social statements with laughs one minute, a serious message the next, followed up by sometimes abrupt, shocking violence. As good as Parasite is, it is the accumulative both of work now that is his strength– I’ve mentioned several times how Parasite actually improves Snowpiercer.

a shot that belongs on a wall in a museum here from Memories of a Murder– Bong is a self-described genre artist- manipulating, reinventing, reveling in, debunking and blending

Best film: Parasite

  • Bong’s strongest achievement to date—a razor sharp script, engaging narrative, funny, sociopolitical
  • A brilliant opening shot from the basement of the Kim’s semi-sunk apartment (with drying socks as their chandelier). It ends on the same note — spectacular formal bookends (for a second I thought we were going with an unearned Spielbergian Minority Report-like ending (Bong’s penultimate shot which is another stunner just before the final shot) but thank god Bong didn’t go for that). That shot is a dream, lighting coming in, and then we end with the second shot below here- the cold winter through their depressing sunken apartment window.

A brilliant opening shot from the basement of the Kim’s semi-sunk apartment (with drying socks as their chandelier). It ends on the same note — spectacular formal bookends

  • Two families, two houses (fantastic set pieces) and the different literal and metaphorical level in the house and the city (half-sunken apartment, the hidden basement apartment, the mansion on higher elevation than the rest of Seoul (as we see during the flood sequence– 92 minutes rain and run back to house. Stairs down in long shot –Biblical flood)) are all a part of the narrative but of course is Bong’s social statement as well. This class statement and the family as a unit (important to Bong in his body of work) is all Bong. He makes a similar statement in Snowpiercer of course with the different classes in the carts and what keeps the train going (much like the title here literally living off the classes). Like all great auteur cinema, Parasite works a supreme stand-alone film, but also deepens and enriches Bong’s previous films
  • I don’t know how you write a review of Parasite without mentioning Bunuel. Parasite has the best of Bunuel- there’s The Exterminating Angel and The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie here. Bong, like Bunuel, takes a flamethrower to the bourgeoisie but Bong’s Parasite is more complex than Bunuel’s middle-finger cinema as the Kim family also holds on for dear life to their new-found social standing when the previous housekeeper and her husband threaten it.
  • The depiction of the Park family is dark. Their sex scene together pretending to be on drugs and lower class is revolting and could be right from Bunuel. This is also yet another scene where the Parks are both physically and socially above the Kim family (the Kim family is hiding underneath their furniture).
  • Open discussion of the thesis, the rich, creditors and debtors.  This isn’t subtle- it’ll be interesting to see how critics compare it with Joker as they have much in common frankly.
  • This is bleak but never punishing—it’s an incredibly easy 132 minutes
  • Like The Shining, Bong has weaved the Native Americans here as a symbol of oppression
  • the first 53 minutes are really The Sting (broadly of course)- an elaborate and entertaining heist game with social class context
  • Class also plays a part in 2018’s Burning from Lee Chang-dong (both use cinematography Kyung-pyo Hong).  Lee Chang-dong and Bong are the Godard and Truffaut of the South Korean New Wave here over the last 20 years.  After one viewing of Parasite I think Burning is the slightly superior work. There’s nothing here like the finale climax of Burning in terms of pure filmmaking or the jaw-dropping long-take Jong-seo Jun’s character stripping and dancing desolately in the magic-hour dusk
  • Von Trier’s Dogville is another film that I think is an apt comparison, some of the work of Pasolini, and definitely Peele’s Us, and Get Out
  • A key shot is the views from the windows of the two residences again. The Park family has a pristine paradise. The Kim family is literally getting pissed on by drunks who stumble around a half-level above. The two houses are important set pieces, but the windows (both have prominent windows) specifically– masterful
  • Bong continues to be a master of blending genres. This film is a satire, and a wildly successful one, but there are elements of real connection (the two Kim men lying next to each other talking about their dreams), moments of an elevated drama, and there well executed moments of a visceral thriller as well
  • there are multiple rewarding levels and layers to the film– both text and subtext– the stick bugs (not something I remember from the first viewing), “Crossing the line”, the landscape stone and it’s significance, “so metaphorical”- haha
  • the voice over at 116 is really the coda and switching to the letter written. I think it is fine formally.
  • feels like it is at least a Must-See film– perhaps a MS/MP or even a MP with a third viewing.

 

total archiveable films: 6

 

a gorgeous shot- foreground/background work in the frame from Memories

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0

top 100 films of the decade:  1 (Parasite)

most overrated: The Host. It is from the 21st century (2006) and it is already on the consensus TSPDT top 1000. It is ranked #8 for its year- and I don’t see it. And I’ve seen The Host multiple times this time. Many there will be a revelation the next time I watch now that I’ve seen Parasite.

most underrated :  Bong is very well respected but the critics—all six of his films below are on the TSPDT 21st century top 1000 and most rated very well. If I’m going to pick a nit it’s with Mother – it lands way down at #17 for 2009 and I’d get to it before that.

Bong is very well respected by the critics- but I think Mother is a tad underrated

gem I want to spotlight :  Snowpiercer. I think on its own it’s very good- but now with Parasite and the dueling set pieces of the train (Snowpiercer) and the house (Parasite) as metaphors for the class divide—brilliant- makes it a much stronger work.

dueling set pieces of the train (Snowpiercer) and the house (Parasite) as metaphors for the class divide—brilliant

stylistic innovations/traits:                             

  • a self-described genre artist- manipulating, reinventing, reveling in, debunking and blending
  • social films- subtext and stories about the middle-lower or lower class—class divide, stories of the family dynamic as well
  • set-pieces (whether it’s a train, house, set of stairs/hill) that tie to the class divide motif
  • a gorgeous one in Okja- and a lot more prominent in Parasite­– gorgeous visual work with windows and creating a breathtakingly beautiful frame

a gorgeous one in Okja (above)- and a lot more prominent in Parasite­ (below)- gorgeous visual work with windows

  • with his work in so many genres there are a number of auteurs you can talk about and compare with Bong– Bunuel among them for sure- I think Guillermo del Toro another– however- two of Bong’s greatest shots here visually are right from the Kurosawa playbook.

echoes of the playground structure shot in Ikiru— a magnificent shot here from Mother

top 10

  1. Parasite
  2. Mother
  3. Memories of Murder
  4. Snowpiercer
  5. The Host
  6. Ojka

I’m watching too many Kurosawa movies right now not to admire this stunner of a composition from Memories of a Murder

By year and grades

2003- Memories of Murder HR
2006- The Host R
2009- Mother HR
2013- Snowpiercer HR
2017- Okja R
2019- Parasite MS/MP

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives