- “Parasite” swept Sunday night’s Oscars and became the first non-English-language movie to win best picture.
- For fans just getting into the work of director Bong Joon Ho and the world of South Korean movies, there are plenty of other excellent films to watch.
- Bong’s signature wit, dark humour, and thrilling plots have been on display his entire career.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It was the night that introduced director Bong Joon Ho to millions of more people, and which will almost certainly result in a new wave of theatre-goers watching his celebrated thriller.
For fans of Bong, it’s a crowning achievement. He’s been a fixture on the international film festival circuit for decades. The win for “Parasite” – which also won the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year – is gratifying for his champions, including director Quentin Tarantino who, as Bong pointed out in his best director speech, has been instrumental in bringing his work to the English-speaking world.
The acclaim for “Parasite” also brings attention to the world of South Korean cinema. Bong’s peers – including his friends Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy,” “The Handmaiden”), Kim Jee-woon (“The Good, the Bad, and the Weird”), Lee Chang-dong (“Burning,” “Poetry”), and Hong Sang-soo (“Right Now, Wrong Then”) – have all made some of the best-reviewed movies of the past few decades.
For people discovering Bong’s work through “Parasite,” there’s a wealth of other incredible movies to watch.
“Parasite” isn’t even the best he’s ever made.
7. “Barking Dogs Never Bite”(2000)
Bong’s debut film – about a professor so annoyed by the sound of barking dogs in his apartment building that he kidnaps them – isn’t generally considered his best. But it established the hallmarks of his future work: The premise is ridiculous, the genres and moods blend effortlessly, and it’s funny.
6. “Okja” (2017)
“Okja” is Bong’s only movie suitable for children, and one of his two movies with a lot of English-language dialogue. It’s about a girl who befriends a genetically modified “super pig” named Okja, and tries to rescue it when the multinational corporation that developed it wants her back.
As I wrote in my 2017 review, Bong made the movie after the critical and commercial success of “Snowpiercer,” his other largely English-language movie. He also got a big budget from Netflix.
All of that gave him the creative freedom to get weird. And it pays off. It’s a fantasy epic in the vein of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke.” Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal give unhinged supporting performances, and Bong goes all-in with a message about the horrors of factory farming.
The movie is also notable for being Bong’s first collaboration with Choi Woo-shik, who starred in the South Korean blockbuster “Train to Busan” and was later cast in “Parasite.”
5. “The Host” (2006)
It’s easy to see why “The Host” was, for a time, the highest-grossing South Korean movie of all time.
The movie centres on a dysfunctional family trying to save one of their own from a vicious monster living in the Han River. It’s also a political critique of Americans who invade other countries without regard for the locals, and the inept bureaucracies that make every problem worse.
At its heart, though, it’s a moving, funny, and thrilling story about finding family in the most unexpected places.
4. “Memories of Murder” (2003)
Bong’s second and breakthrough movie, based on a true story, is about a pair of mismatched detectives trying to crack the case of Korea’s first serial killings, in the 1980s.
It established the director as a master of tonal shifts. The movie has the odd-couple comedy you’d expect. But more than that, it’s a gripping procedural that digs deep into the anguish of the families of those killed and the despair of the officers unable to save the victims.
The movie was also Bong’s first time working with Song Kang-ho, who later starred in “The Host,” “Snowpiercer,” and “Parasite.”
The case was still unsolved as Bong made the movie, but South Korean authorities said they found the killer as he was campaigning for “Parasite” in September.
3. “Parasite” (2019)
The coiled thriller, about a poor family that entangles their lives into a wealthy one (until everything goes wrong), catapulted Bong to international fame, winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and best picture at the 2020 Oscars.
It’s a movie working on all levels, with metaphoric set design and lines that carry the movie’s message all the way to the unexpected end.
2. “Snowpiercer” (2013)
Bong’s sci-fi masterpiece has all of the class-warfare ideas he refined in “Parasite.” But here, they’re scaled up to the level of a blockbuster. Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, and with a delightfully bizarre turn from Tilda Swinton that foreshadowed her work in “Okja,” “Snowpiercer” has only gotten more socially relevant with time.
It takes place in a future wrecked by climate change, where all life survives on a single train circling the globe. The poor are in the back, feeding on scraps and fighting to live. In the front are the wealthy, partying away on the last days of the planet.
With its violence, humour, and moral righteousness, it’s Bong at his best.
1. “Mother” (2009)
No, not the lowercased Darren Aronofsky movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. Bong’s “Mother” is his funniest – and riskiest – endeavour. A decade later, it holds up as his best movie.
Like “Parasite” and “Memories of Murder,” it takes place on a smaller scale but has Bong’s signature vicious wit. In a small South Korean town, a young man with an intellectual disability is accused of murder. His mother, an elderly woman with an unlicensed acupuncture practice, tries to clear his name. “Mother” borrows in tone from Coen brothers’ dark comedy crime classics like “Fargo” and “Barton Fink.” The movie also had a small role for Lee Jung-eun, who later memorably played the housekeeper in “Parasite.”
Bong pulls off the tricky balance of making a movie featuring a character with an intellectual disability, the righteous rage at a society that doesn’t take his needs seriously, and a caring mother whose love is the beating heart of the story.
“Mother” remains his crowning achievement.
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