2. Parasite (2019)
A family of poor grifters prey on a gullible rich family by masquerading as tutors, drivers and housekeepers, but soon come to realise how they’re in over their heads.
Director Bong made history three times with Parasite, initially becoming the first South Korean director to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, then becoming the first South Korean filmmaker to be nominated in any category at the Academy Awards, and finally (and most definitively) winning Best Picture, the first film not in the English Language to do so.
There’s plenty of beautiful symbolism, mythological allusions and thematic meat to get your teeth stuck into with this quiet but revolutionary masterpiece. You think you know where it’s going and how far, but really you have no idea. The entire ensemble dazzle, but none more so than Song Kang-ho who goes from daft to devious in the blink of an eye.
Parasite is deliciously dark and horrifically hilarious. Bong’s multiple awards winner is very nearly his best, and certainly his most structurally bold and stylistically complex film to date. Bong crafts a dark mirror world inhabited by two distinct and opposite factions vying for control, fighting to live and to live well, a microcosm of everything wrong and unequal with societies worldwide.
Director Bong trademark moment: The Kim family’s plans begin to go awry and with no time to escape the house they’re all forced to hide under the living room table as the unsuspecting Mr and Mrs Park go about… their business.
Recommended for you: Why Parasite’s Oscars Dominance Matters
1. Memories of Murder (2003)
Based on a real and until recently unsolved case, we follow three detectives (Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung and Kim Roe-ha) as they try to bring a serial killer to justice in spite of their own incompetence and wider police department corruption.
Bong comes to terms with his national identity in a captivating true crime mystery set in one of his country’s darkest chapters. Not many filmmakers would see comic potential in police torture, faking evidence and committing perjury to keep an unjust system afloat, but Bong sees things a little differently to most of his contemporaries.
The detectives are blunt tools of the unjust regime they represent, and they in turn symbolically strip that regime of its authority and power through their sheer incompetence. They beat up suspects and try to get them to read scripted confessions, they hit the sauna looking for “hairless” men and they bribe suspects with fake Nike trainers. The gallows humour makes you smile, but it’s a bittersweet story – a sad series of events in an already shameful chapter of Korean history that these ineffectual policemen have no hope of getting to the bottom of.
Parasite may have been Bong’s landmark, but Memories is his most personal and painful film to date. Comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin, and here they come together to make truly compelling drama.
Director Bong trademark moment: Our first introduction to the finest cops of Hwaseong has them tumbling down a grassy bank into a rice paddy upon arrival at a crime scene, and being completely ineffectual at preventing a tractor from driving straight over crucial evidence.
Let us know your thoughts on Bong Joon-ho’s filmography, and what order you would have put his films in, in the comments below.