Tag Archives: Bong Joon-ho

The Host (2006) Review

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The Host (2006)

Time: 119 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] contains violence, horror scenes & offensive language
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Park Gang-du
Byun Hee-bong as Park Hee-bong
Park Hae-il as Park Nam-il
Bae Doo-na as Park Nam-joo
Go Ah-sung as Park Hyun-seo
Director: Bong Joon-ho

An unidentified monster appears from the Han River in Seoul, kills hundreds and also carries off Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). When her family learns that she is being held captive, they resolve to save her.

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After watching Parasite, I wanted to watch more of Bong Joon ho’s movies. The Host (not to be confused with the 2013 movie based on Stephanie Meyer’s book of the same name) had been on my long list of movies to watch for a while, I just knew of it as a monster movie, and it certainly was that, but having seen it I can say that it turned out to be a little more than just that. A greatly well made and original movie, The Host was quite an enjoyable monster flick, and had quite a lot of surprises in store that I wasn’t expecting.

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There’s plenty of monster movies, and if you’ve watched many of them, they can feel rather samey, and ultimately follow the same beats as other movies in the genre. However, Bong’s take on this worn out genre manages to be fresh and original. There’s also some deeper subtext and thematic elements at play, it’s actually more politically charged than you’d think it would be. The opening scene indicates that there’s much more to the movie, with scientists pushing chemicals into the pipe, which would eventually cause the monster to be created. While the plot beats aren’t exactly unpredictable, the story felt fresh enough that it didn’t matter too much. On top of that, the plot is quite captivating, and you’re invested from beginning to end. It’s tense and surprisingly emotionally involving, especially with the characters. At the same time, The Host is surprisingly darkly comedic and entertaining throughout, having some funny moments while not sacrificing the overall tone, it’s all balanced quite well.

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The cast are all good with Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, and Go Ah-sung playing the family at the centre of the story. The dynamic between all of them is great, which is good because it’s sort of a family drama on top of being a monster movie. The standout was long time Bong collaborator Song Kang-Ho, he’s great in everything and his performance as the father of the girl who was taken by the monster is no exception. Most monster movies have characters that are just there to be the main characters because every movie in that genre needs to have then, while the destruction and/or the monster is really the focus. The Host however is actually driven by these characters, and they are all acted and handled in the movie quite well.

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Bong Joon ho’s direction is great as expected, it’s so incredibly well shot and filmed. If you’ve seen any of his movies Memories of Murder onwards, you know how great he is, and that extends to the monster movie genre too. There are many thrilling sequences that ranks among the best of the genre. Now the only overt flaw is some of the dated visual effects on the monster and… it definitely hasn’t held up well. But it’s a testament to its design and the direction of the whole movie that this monster manages to be so effective, memorable and threatening whenever it’s on screen.

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The Host is a great monster movie, and it’s a great movie in itself. The acting is really good, Bong Joon-ho’s direction was top notch, and I liked everything that Bong brought to the movie with his writing. All of these elements come together to form a mixture of styles that work effectively. Even if you might think the monster movies are a little samey, The Host is definitely one to seek out.

Mother (2009) Review

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Mother

Time: 128 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language & sexual theme
Cast:
Kim Hye-ja as Mother
Won Bin as Yoon Do-joon
Director: Bong Joon-ho

A widow (Kim Hye-ja) resides with her mentally challenged son (Won Bin) in a small South Korean town, where she scrapes out a living selling medicinal herbs. Mother and son are plunged into a nightmare when the body of a murdered young girl is discovered. Circumstantial evidence indicates the son’s involvement, and he becomes the prime suspect during the sloppy police investigation. Betrayed by the legal system, the mother takes the law into her own hands to clear her son’s name.

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Mother is another movie from Bong Joon ho, so naturally it was on my list of movies to watch. I didn’t really know what to expect going into it, except of the initial plot description being about someone being accused of murder and his mother trying to prove his innocence. It turned out to be a lot more than I thought it would be, a great and engaging social mystery thriller that really sticks with you long after watching it.

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I won’t talk too much about the plot to avoid spoilers. At its core, Mother is a straightforward story, a murder mystery story where one character tries to prove that another is innocent. It’s quite a low key thriller, yet it packs a suspenseful plot, with some clever and impactful twists throughout that’s effectively unpredictable. It’s a riveting murder mystery film, with quite a good central mystery and a real neo noir feel. Bong balances the thrilling mystery and the hard-hitting drama, while adding a bit of his signature humour along the way. Like with Bong’s latest film Parasite, Mother is very Hitchcockian, but also off kilter in the way that you can expect from the filmmaker from his other movies. There’s a lot of social commentary, as to be expected from Bong, such as when it comes to the police, portrayed here as being incompetent, clueless or corrupt. The movie is also really about how much someone is willing to go to save their child, and that theme is present throughout. The ending was great, without getting into too much depth here. It is a very haunting movie, it really sticks with you long after you’ve seen it. It is effectively bleak and unsettling too, and by the end a little depressing. But it is told very well, so you’re still invested throughout. There aren’t many criticisms that I have, I guess it is a bit long at around 2 hours and 10 minutes long, and some of that time could’ve probably been trimmed down a little. The pacing was also a bit slow and could drag at some points, it being a slow burn thriller, but it wasn’t too slow that it bothered me however.

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The acting is all great but the performance that stands out of course is the lead Kim Hye-ja, playing the unnamed mother only credited as Mother, and she is fantastic in this film. Despite some of the questionable things that she does over the course of the movie, you can still identify and sympathise with her and her situation. It’s a powerhouse performance, filled with such emotion and nuance, and she’s excellent here. Definitely one of the film’s greatest strengths. Won Bin, who plays her son is also quite good, as someone who has an intellectual disability. Even though the mother is adamant that he is innocent, you’re not quite certain that he is, and can never tell really. The rest of the cast are also good, but it really is Kim Hye-ja’s movie through and through, she owns every scene that she’s in.

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Bong Joon-ho’s direction is typically great, and he’s put everything together greatly, it’s edited very well. The cinematography is pretty much perfect, it was shot excellently and is absolutely stunning to look at, and the imagery really sticks with you. The score by Lee Byung-woo is great too, and really fitted the rest of the movie well.

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I will say that Mother isn’t one of my favourite movies from Bong Joon-ho like Memories of Murder or Parasite were, but it’s nonetheless a great film that’s extremely well made. With an intriguing and unsettling mystery, a great script, excellent direction and a great lead performance from Kim Hye-ja, it is definitely worth the watch.

Snowpiercer (2014) Review

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Snowpiercer

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence
Cast:
Chris Evans as Curtis Everett
Song Kang-ho as Namgoong Minsoo
Ed Harris as Wilford
John Hurt as Gilliam
Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason
Jamie Bell as Edgar
Octavia Spencer as Tanya
Ewen Bremner as Andrew
Go Ah-sung as Yona
Director: Bong Joon-ho

Set in 2031, the entire world is frozen except for those abroad the Snowpiercer. For seventeen years, the world’s survivors are on a train hurtling around the globe creating their own economy and class system. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans), a group of lower-class citizens living in squalor at the back of the train are determined to get to the front of the train and spread the wealth around. Each section of the train holds new surprises for the group who have to battle their way through. A revolution is underway.

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Snowpiercer was the first movie from Bong Joon-ho that I saw, which was quite a while ago. Having watched all his other movies, it made me want to go back to this one, and it’s even better on a second viewing. The release of Snowpiercer wasn’t as large as it should’ve been, which is a shame, because had it been given a proper release it would’ve been a massive hit among everyone sooner. It’s a fantastic film that is worth seeing.

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Snowpiercer is a very thematic movie about class, and there are a lot of parallels throughout. A lot of it isn’t particularly subtle but this doesn’t bother me at all however, movies being blatant with its themes aren’t inherently bad, and Snowpiercer does go deeper than just leaving it at “rich people bad, poor people good”. At around 2 hours long, the movie held my attention quite well. It’s much more focussed on the story, ideas, characters and themes over the spectacle and visuals (even those are impressive too). At first it’s a straightforward story, a group of people at the back end of the train want to get to the front of the train, and it doesn’t get much more complicated than that. However, there’s more going on, and the latter half of the movie sort of abandons the action movie energy from the first half for something much more intellectual and ambiguous, and I liked that too. Snowpiercer also feels very fresh, creative and original, and you can’t really compare it to any other sci-fi film, even though it’s not an entirely original film as it was based off a graphic novel (which I don’t think was that well known). The ending, as in the very last scene of the movie, was fine enough but I felt like it was missing something.

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This had a large cast, and all of them perform greatly, but there were three performances that stood out most. Chris Evans gives probably the best performance of his career in the lead role, as a much darker and conflicted character compared to most of the others that he plays, I’d like to see him more in roles like this. Song Kang-ho is here in his 3rd collaboration with Bong Joon-ho, and as usual delivers a solid performance. Tilda Swinton is the other standout as another transformative and unrecognisable character, and shined in her screentime in a over the top and gloriously hammy performance. The rest of the supporting cast with Go Ah-sung, Jamie Bell, Ewen Bremner, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer and Ed Harris also delivered some solid performances on their parts.

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We all know that Bong Joon-ho is a great director but he’s particularly great here, and his transition to movies in English was impressive. Taking away the fact that this movie is mostly in English, this doesn’t feel like an American blockbuster, especially when it comes to the action. It’s brutal, stylised, and was all around great and satisfying. It’s also visually stunning, the visual effects and cinematography were outstanding, and the attention to detail with the production and costume designs were top notch.

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Snowpiercer is one of my favourite movies from Bong Joon-ho, and he’s made some fantastic films. His direction was reliably exceptional and was key to making it work as well as it did. Add on top of that the work of the cast and a story and world I was engaged with throughout, and you have an outstanding sci-fi movie. Definitely watch it if you haven’t already.

Memories of Murder (2003) Review

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Memories of Murder

Time: 131 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Park Doo-man
Kim Sang-kyung as Seo Tae-yoon
Kim Roi-ha as Cho Yong-koo
Song Jae-ho as Sergeant Shin Dong-chul
Byun Hee-bong as Sergeant Koo Hee-bong
Director: Bong Joon-ho

In a small Korean province in 1986, two detectives struggle with the case of multiple young women being found raped and murdered by an unknown culprit.

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While watching Bong Joon ho’s filmography, there was one movie I was particularly looking forward to seeing, that being Memories of Murder. It had often been compared to Zodiac (even though Memories of Murder came out 4 years earlier), and seeing as I loved that movie, I had a feeling that it would be right up my alley, given that I generally like crime thrillers That turned out to be that case. All of the acclaim was very well deserved, Memories of Murder is a truly excellent film that everyone really should see.

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We’ve seen many detective stories about hunting serial killers, but not many are as well put together as Memories of Murder. At around 2 hours and 10 minutes long, it keeps you engaged from beginning to end. You really feel as locked in as much as the main characters as they desperately try to find the killer, discovering leads, reaching dead ends, and the like. The movie more character driven than you might think, as it shows the stress, disappointment, and overall impact that this seemingly endless hunt has on the detectives. This movie also has some surprisingly effective dark comedy throughout, making it somewhat entertaining to watch and not just a grimy gruel to sit through. At the same time, the murders are fittingly disturbing (while not being overly exploitive), and you constantly feel this growing sense of seemingly hopelessness, especially as it builds towards the latter portion of the movie. The climax of the movie takes quite the turn, culminating in quite the haunting ending, especially the final shot of the film. I won’t say too much for those who know nothing about the movie or the events it’s based on, but like Zodiac, Memories of Murder based on a true story, giving much of the movie even more weight.

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The cast are all great in their roles, with the trio of Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung and Kim Roi-ha as the detectives particularly working very effective. Their characters are all shown to be quite different from each other (both in personalities and the way they perform their investigations), flawed and really believable. As usual, it’s Song Kang-ho who stands out the most, who delivers another great performance. Both him and Kim Sang-kyung particularly shine in some of the latter scenes of the film.

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Bong Joon-ho’s direction was fantastic, this is his second movie and he’s done some absolutely fantastic work here, certainly a huge step up from his debut movie Barking Dogs Never Bite released 3 years earlier. The cinematography was also great, really placing you in the setting effectively. Some of the most stand out shots come in the last 10 minutes, and on the whole that last section is so wonderfully directed and put together. The score by Taro Iwashiro is also really effective, beautiful but melancholic and sad.

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Memories of Murder is an absolute masterclass in filmmaking, an engaging and haunting crime thriller, incredibly written and directed by Bong Joon ho, and greatly performed by its cast. While I consider Parasite (another Bong film) to be slightly better, they are very close in terms of quality, and both deserve all the attention. Definitely see it as soon as possible, especially if you’re a fan of investigative crime thriller films like Zodiac.

Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) Review

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Barking Dogs Never Bite

Time: 106 Minutes
Cast:
Lee Sung-jae as Ko Yun-ju
Bae Doona as Park Hyun-nam
Kim Ho-jung as Eun-sil
Byun Hee-bong as apartment maintenance man
Director: Bong Joon-ho

Frustrated with loud barking, an academic (Sung-jae Lee) wages war against dogs in his apartment building.

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Barking Dogs Never Bite was one of the movies from writer/director Bong Joon-ho I had left to catch up on. Out of those few movies however, this one didn’t look that interesting to me. One was a monster movie (The Host), another was about a hunt of a real life serial killer (Memories of Murder), another was a murder mystery (Mother), but this one seemed to be something involving dogs, I just didn’t really know what it was supposed to be. I wasn’t really expecting much, and having seen it I can confirm that Barking Dogs Don’t Bite is by far Bong’s weakest movie, not necessarily bad, just okay.

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To put things bluntly, if you don’t like seeing bad things happening to dogs in movies, don’t bother watching Barking Dogs Never Bite. Now the violence towards them is quite clearly fictionalised but nonetheless if that sort of thing bothers you in movies, it’s not going to work for you, and you’re not going to last long with this one. The writing is a bit of a mixed bag. There are aspects that are good, and it was good enough to have me willing to watch from beginning to end. It just didn’t interest me all that much, and it’s quite a while before you figure out what this movie is really all about. I also wasn’t invested with any of the characters, least of all the protagonists. The fact that they’re not particularly likable wasn’t necessarily a problem, but they just weren’t very interesting people to follow. Even some of the supporting characters outshone them, though they weren’t great either. With that said, Barking Dogs Never Bite does have its moments, you can see glimpses of elements that would later appear in later Bong movies, mainly with the themes, the dark humour and the dialogue.

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As I said previously, the characters aren’t all that interesting, especially the leads played by Lee Sung-jae and Bae Doona, however both actors do what they can in their roles and give good enough performances. The supporting cast with the likes of Kim Ho-jung, Byun Hee-bong and others also do fine enough on their parts.

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The biggest strength of the movie is of Bong Joon-ho’s direction. Even for a debut film, his work is pretty strong here. Now it’s not on the level of all of his other movies, and it’s a little rough around the edges, especially when it comes to the editing. However, on the whole it’s quite well made, with some unique creative choices that really stood out. Barking Dogs Never Bite is very clearly an independent and smaller movie, and while you definitely feel the lower budget, some of the filmmaking techniques still managed to shine through at points, and there are a few sequences that are quite good.

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Barking Dogs Never Bite is one of those debut films from critically acclaimed directors that you might check out if you’re a big fan of their movies. Outside of people interested in Bong Joon ho’s movies though, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to other people. The cast are decent, and it’s directed quite well (with that being the one aspect that was carrying this movie), but I just couldn’t get into the story or characters, and it was mostly a drag to watch. Overall, not a bad movie, but just okay enough.

Parasite (2019) Review

Time: 132 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Violence, offensive language & sex scenes
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Kim Ki-taek
Jang Hye-jin as Kim Chung-sook
Choi Woo-shik as Kim Ki-woo
Park So-dam as Kim Ki-jung
Lee Sun-kyun as Mr. Park
Cho Yeo-jeong as Choi Yeon-kyo
Director: Bong Joon-ho

Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.

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So I’ve heard much about this movie for a while now, there’s been a lot of hype surrounding it. This movie won the Palme d’Or, the highest award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and the director is Bong Joon-ho, who made Snowpiercer and Okja (and apparently plenty of acclaimed movies that I have yet to see). Not to mention all the overwhelming praise that it’s been receiving from those who’ve seen it. It’s very rare for some movies to be declared as outright masterpieces immediately after seeing them, and it’s even rarer for them to actually live up to all the immense acclaim, but Parasite did just that.

Thankfully unlike some other recent movies released this year, people have chosen the much more respectable choice to not spoil anything from Parasite’s plot. I’ve not watched the trailer to the movie myself, but even if it doesn’t give anything away, I’m willing to bet the experience is still much better if you go in not having watched any footage beforehand. It’s actually pretty hard to review this movie, there are so many parts I’m choosing to not talk about that aren’t necessarily spoilers, but they’re even better when you don’t know that they are coming. So if I’m being vague, it’s for a very good reason. The writing is absolutely fantastic, for sure one of the best scripts of the year. Thematically, the movie is mostly about class as you could probably tell from the brief plot synopsises, and I liked how they explored that (again no spoilers). You’d actually be surprised to learn that much of the movie is a full on comedy, and I found so much of it gleefully hilarious as our protagonists somehow manage to succeed at their goal surprisingly easily. I had heard beforehand that it had some dark comedy, but I didn’t expect the amount there was (and if you know me, you know that I love me some great dark comedy). However at a certain point there’s a dramatic switch, and the movie turns into an all out thriller at the turn of a dime, and it does so very well. It’s gripping all the way to the very end. There are so many things set up earlier in the movie that come into play later on. It seems so well put together that I can see myself revisting Parasite sometime in the future. The movie is over 2 hours and 10 minutes long, and I enjoyed every second of it.

The cast are all good, with the protagonists the Kim family being played by Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam, and the rich family (the Park family) played by Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ji-so and Jung Hyun-joon. Everyone was great in their roles but personally my favourite was Song Kang-ho as the father of the Kim family, he’s been good in the few things I’ve seen him in and he’s stellar here.

This is the third film I’ve seen from Bong Joon-ho, and I’ve really got to see his other movies because from what I’ve seen from him, he’s already shown himself to be a masterful filmmaker. It’s such a great looking movie, it’s shot pretty much perfectly and it really establishes you in their environments, whether it’s the Kim family’s basement home, or the wealthy Park family’s glamorise house. Also during the moments of tension, it’s fantastically directed.

Even if you’ve never heard of this movie before, I implore you to watch Parasite as soon as you can, and knowing as little as possible going into it. The acting by everyone is really great, and Bong Joon-ho’s writing and direction is nothing short of phenomenal. It’s hilarious and entertaining, gripping and shocking, and just was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had watching a movie this year. I honestly can’t believe that it’s as great as it is, and I wasn’t even lowering my expectations necessarily. There are some upcoming movies that could potentially take its place, but for the time being, Parasite is firmly my favourite movie of the year.