Bong Joon-ho

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Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho 2017.jpg
Bong at the Japan premiere of Okja in 2017
Born (1969-09-14) September 14, 1969 (age 50)
Daegu, South Korea
Education Yonsei University (B.A.)
Notable work
Awards Full list
Korean name
Revised Romanization Bong Junho
McCune–Reischauer Pong Chunho

Bong Joon-ho (Korean : 봉준호, Korean pronunciation:  [poːŋ tɕuːnho → poːŋdʑunɦo] ; born September 14, 1969) is a South Korean filmmaker. His films feature social themes, genre-mixing, black humor, and sudden mood shifts. [1] In 2017, Metacritic ranked Bong 13th on its list of the 25 best film directors of the 21st century. [2]


Bong first gained recognition for his second feature film, the crime drama Memories of Murder (2003), before achieving commercial success with his subsequent films, the monster film The Host (2006), dystopian thriller Snowpiercer (2013), and the black comedy Parasite (2019), which are among the highest-grossing films in South Korea. [3]

Two of his films have screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival Okja in 2017 and Parasite in 2019, the latter of which earned the first Palme d'Or for a South Korean film. [4] [5] For Parasite, Bong received Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and, on behalf of South Korea, Best International Feature Film. [6] [7]

Early life

Bong Joon-ho was born in Daegu, South Korea, in 1969, the youngest of four children. [8] His father was Bong Sang-gyun, a graphic and industrial designer and professor, while his mother Park So-young was a full-time housewife. [8] [9] Bong has wanted to be a film director since he was fourteen-years-old. Bong's father, deceased Bong Sang-kyun, is a first-generation graphic designer who was a former professor of art at Yeungnam University and the head of the art department at the National Film Institute. When Bong was young, he was able to see his father always drawing. Naturally, Bong wo imitated his father, has had the opportunity to practice comic and story-boarding since the age of five, including drawing and arranging cartoon shots. Professor Bongsan Kyun retired from Seoul Institute of Technology as a professor of design in 2007 and passed away in 2017. Bong suffered severe hardships for more than 10 years while working on film production. As one of the not famous directors, he received a meager salary of 1900 dollars per year (US$3800 = 4,500,000 won per two year). It was hard to make a living, so he barely made enough to buy rice so he had to borrow rice from his university's alumni. Currently, Bong's son, Bong Hyo-min, is also a film director. [10] [11]

Bong's maternal grandfather, Park Taewon, was an esteemed author during the Japanese colonial period, best known for his work A Day in the Life of Kubo the Novelist and his defection to North Korea in 1950. [8] [12] 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. [9]

While Bong was in elementary school, the family relocated to Seoul, taking up residence in Jamsil-dong by the Han River. [12] Bong enrolled in Yonsei University in 1988, majoring in sociology. [8] 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. [8] [13]

Bong served a two-year term in the military in accordance with South Korea's compulsory military service before returning to college in 1992. [8] He co-founded a film club named Yellow Door with students from neighboring universities. [8] 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. [8] He graduated from Yonsei University in 1995. [8]

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—which included working 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. [1] Bong studied Martin Scorsese films and cited him as one of his major filmmaking influences in his Academy Award for Best Director acceptance speech for Parasite . [14]


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 anthology film Seven Reasons Why Beer is Better Than a Lover (1996); both screenplay and assistant director credits on Park Ki-yong's debut Motel Cactus (1997); and is one of four writers (along with Jang Joon-hwan) credited for the screenplay of Phantom: The Submarine (1999). [1]

Early directing work

Shortly afterwards, Bong began shooting his first feature Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) under producer Cha Seung-jae, who had overseen the production of both Motel Cactus and Phantom: The Submarine. [15] 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 his marriage. [16] At the time of its release in February 2000, it received little commercial interest but some positive critical reviews. It was invited to the competition section of Spain's San Sebastián International Film Festival, and won 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. [1] [ better source needed ]

Bong's second film, Memories of Murder (2003), a much larger project, was adapted from a 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). [17] Production of the film was a difficult process (the film set a local record for the number of locations it utilized).[ citation needed ] It was released in April 2003 and proved a critical and popular success. 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 Sebastián, 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. [1]

Bong at the 25th Independent Spirit Awards on March 5, 2010 Bong Joon-Ho at 2010 Independent Spirit Awards.jpg
Bong at the 25th Independent Spirit Awards on March 5, 2010

Following this, Bong took some time to contribute short films to two anthology film projects. Influenza (2004) is a 30-minute work acted out entirely in front of real CCTV cameras stationed throughout Seoul. The film, which charts 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 anthology 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 (2003), a work set alongside the Han River. [1]

International success

The Host (2006) marked a step up in scale in Bong's career, and indeed for the Korean film industry as a whole. [18] 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 there were many doubts raised about whether a Korean production could rise to the challenge of creating a full-fledged, believable digital monster. [18] 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 1,800 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. [1] [19]

Bong along with Michel Gondry and French director Leos Carax, directed a segment of Tokyo! (2008), 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 do not leave their homes—and what happens when he falls in love with a pizza delivery girl. [20]

Bong's fourth feature film Mother (2009) 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 the 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. [21]

In 2011, Bong contributed to 3.11 A Sense of Home, another anthology film, each segment being 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. [22] In Bong's short film Iki, a teenage girl finds a toddler, seemingly dead, on a beach. [23]

That same year, Bong served as a jury member for the 27th Sundance Film Festival. [24] [25] He was also the head of the jury for the Caméra d'Or section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, [26] [27] and the 2013 Edinburgh International Film Festival. [28]

American co-productions

Bong at the 2013 Deauville American Film Festival Bong Joon-ho Deauville 2013.jpg
Bong at the 2013 Deauville American Film Festival

Bong's first English-language film, Snowpiercer , was released in 2013. It is based on the graphic novel, Le Transperceneige , by Jean-Marc Rochette and Jacques Lob, [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] 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 July 29, 2013 in Seoul, South Korea, [34] before screening at the Deauville American Film Festival as the closing film on September 7, 2013, [35] the Berlin International Film Festival as the part of Berlin's Forum sidebar on February 7, 2014, [36] opening the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 11, 2014, [37] and the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 22, 2014. [38] Upon release in cinemas, the film was met with near-universal praise and strong ticket sales, both in South Korea and abroad. [39] [40] 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. [41] In addition to receiving several awards and nominations, Snowpiercer appeared on several critics' lists of the ten best films of 2014. [42]

In 2015, Bong's next film Okja was announced. [43] 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. [44] Darius Khondji joined the film as cinematographer in February 2016. [45] Filming for the project began in April 2016. [46]

Okja premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or and sparked controversy due to it being produced by Netflix. [47] 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 meant the film was projected in an incorrect aspect ratio for its first seven minutes). [48] [49] [50] The festival later issued an apology to the filmmakers. [51] However, despite the studio's negative response, the film itself received a four-minute standing ovation following its actual premiere. [52] The film was later released on Netflix on June 28, 2017, and received positive reviews. [53] On the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 86% based on 223 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.54/10. 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." [54] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 75 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". [55] 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." [56]

Parasite (2019)

Bong at the Munich International Film Festival in July 2019 Bong Joon-ho FilmFest Muenchen 04Jul2019.jpg
Bong at the Munich International Film Festival in July 2019

In 2019, Bong directed the South Korean film Parasite , [57] a black comedy thriller about a poor family that infiltrates a wealthy household by gaining employment as staff. 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 an unanimous vote since Blue Is the Warmest Colour at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. [58] On June 16, 2019, the film won the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize at the Sydney Film Festival [59] [60] where it was in competition alongside eleven other features from countries such as North Macedonia, Brazil and Spain, and Australian entrants Mirrah Foulkes (for Judy and Punch ) and Ben Lawrence­ (for Hearts and Bones ). [61]

Parasite was released in South Korea by CJ Entertainment on May 30, 2019, and in the United States 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. [62] On the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 99% based on 424 reviews, with a weighted average of 9.38/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "An urgent, brilliantly layered look at timely social themes, Parasite finds writer-director Bong Joon Ho in near-total command of his craft." [63] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 96 out of 100, based on 52 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". [64] Regarding motivation of the film's creation, Bong hoped that he would live a comfortable life, however he was disappointed several times in reality. He wanted to express the sadness, anxiety, and deep fear that came from reality of life via his film. [10] [11] [65]

Throughout the 2019–2020 film awards season, Bong and the film received numerous accolades. Bong received the Hollywood Filmmaker Award at the 23rd Hollywood Film Awards [66] and Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Director (tied with Sam Mendes for 1917 ) at the 25th Critics' Choice Awards. [67] [68] He was also nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay (shared with Han Jin-won) at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, [69] with the film itself winning Best Foreign Language Film. [70] This was the first Golden Globe Award nomination (and win) for any South Korean film. [71] Parasite also became the first non-English-language film to win the top prize at the 70th American Cinema Editors Eddie Awards when film editor Yang Jin-mo won Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic. [72] [73] At the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards, the cast of Parasite won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, making history as the first foreign-language film to win in the category. [74] At the 73rd British Academy Film Awards, Parasite was nominated in four categories, [75] winning two awards—Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Not in the English Language. [76] It was also nominated in eleven categories at the 2020 Gold Derby Awards, [77] winning six awards, including Best Motion Picture and Best Director. [78] Additionally, the International Cinephile Society nominated the film in eight categories, winning three awards. [79]

Parasite eventually became the first South Korean film to receive an Academy Award nomination in any category, receiving a total of six nominations and winning four awards—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film—during the 92nd Academy Awards. It was also the first time a non-English language film won the Academy Award for Best Picture [80] and the first time Asian writers won Academy Awards for screenwriting. [81] [82] While accepting the Academy Award for Best Director, Bong expressed his deep respect and appreciation for fellow nominees Martin Scorsese, who inspired his work, and Quentin Tarantino, who supported and praised his earlier films. [83] He also mentioned a statement from Scorsese—"The most personal is the most creative"—that also inspired him; the legendary director then received a standing ovation from the audience. [84] Scorsese later wrote and sent a heartfelt letter to Bong after Parasite's Oscar success. [85]

Personal life

Bong was a member of the now-defunct New Progressive Party. [86] He has also voiced support for its predecessor, the Democratic Labor Party. [87]

Inspirations and style

As a child, Ho watched Black Orpheus on Korean television and it made a big impact on him. [88] When he was in film school, he watched Qatsi trilogy. His main inspirations are from Guillermo del Toro (his favorite films of his are The Devil's Backbone (2001) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006)), and Oshima Nagisa, describing him as "one of the most controversial masters". [88]

The most defining trademark of Bong's films are their sudden tone shifts (sometimes within scenes) between drama, darkness and black or slapstick humour. At a 2017 Masterclass at Toronto, Bong claimed "I’m never really conscious of the tone shifts or the comedy that I apply, I never think ‘oh, the tone shifts at this point or it’s funny at this point.’ I’m never conscious of it during the filmmaking or screenwriting process.” [89]

Bong uses real filming locations or specially built sets in all his films as opposed to green screens, even to the extent of filming in Seoul's sewers for The Host, (Memories of Murder set a local record for the number of locations it utilized).

In an interview promoting Snowpiercer, Ed Harris described Bong's shooting process as "cutting while filming." Harris said that "if I was doing a scene and it was a couple of pages long, he would never shoot the whole thing one way. He'd shoot a few lines, like the first beat of the scene, and then he would turn the camera around and get my part for that part of the scene. Then he would change the angle a little bit." Harris also noted that "the editor was sitting right there on the stage, right below the set with a big tent, actually getting the footage as they were filming. [90]

Daniel Henshall echoed Harris' sentiment calling Bong "precise" and "very sure of what he wants." "He only shoots what he’s going to use in the edit. Doesn’t do any coverage. I’ve never worked like that before. You’re trimming the fat before you’ve shot it, which is very brave, because when you get into the edit, if something’s missing you haven’t got it. He’s been planning it for four years that meticulously." [91]

Bong's process when working with actors is to make them feel comfortable and he give them a high amount of freedom when performing, even allowing them to improvise. He has commented that he doesn't like the term 'Directing Actors' as he feels that "acting is the actor's job and it's something I don't feel like I can direct."


Feature film

YearFilmCredited as
1997Motel CactusNoYesNo
1999Phantom: The SubmarineNoYesNo
2000 Barking Dogs Never Bite YesYesNo
2003 Memories of Murder YesYesNo
2005 Antarctic Journal NoYesNo
2006 The Host YesYesNo
2009 Mother YesYesNo
2013 Snowpiercer YesYesNo
2014 Sea Fog NoYesYes
2017 Okja YesYesYes
2019 Parasite YesYesYes


2020 Snowpiercer Yesexecutive producer
TBAParasiteYesexecutive producer;

Short films

YearFilmSegmentCredited as
1994Baeksaekin (White Man)YesYes
The Memories in My FrameYesYes
2003TwentidentitySink & RiseYesYes
2004Digital Short Films by Three DirectorsInfluenzaYesYes
2008 Tokyo! Shaking TokyoYesYes
20113.11 A Sense of HomeIkiYesYes


1994IncoherenceDelivery Boy
2002 No Blood No Tears Detective (cameo)
2008 Crush and Blush Teacher (cameo)
2012 Doomsday Book Lee Jun-ho (cameo)

Documentary appearances

2006Two or Three Things I Know About Kim Ki-young
2011 Kurosawa's Way
2012Ari Ari the Korean Cinema

Filmography source: Korean Movie Database [92]

Awards and nominations

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
Lee Jung-eun
Park No-shik
Jeon Mi-seon
Go Soo-hee
Paul Lazar
Tilda Swinton
Choi Woo-shik

See also

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