Bong Joon-Ho: Themes, Rhythm, and Oscars
Bong Joon-Ho, he was introduced to me very recently, about six months back in a course called “Understanding Cinema” though he is 20 years old in films. We had a screening followed by an insightful discussion on his second English film, Okja which is about the human exploitation of nature. Starting from the first frame of the movie, I was overwhelmed by the nuances and the freshness of the scenes.
Then I watched Parasite earlier this year, which won the Academy Awards in four categories — Best International Feature, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Director for Bong Joon-Ho. It made history as the First non-English film to win the academy award for best picture, and also first Korean film to get nominated for Oscars.
Debuted with the acclaimed “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” Bong went on to make the blockbusters — Memories of Murder, The Host, Mother, Snowpiercer (his first English movie), Okja (a Netflix original), and Parasite. I couldn’t resist myself from watching his films and successfully finished Bong Marathon by watching Memories of Murder, The Host, and Snowpiercer. Let’s delve into the inspirations, themes, and the rhythm in his movies.
Almost all the movies he made are based on some incidents and his experiences. Memories of Murder was loosely inspired from the series of murders happened in South Korea, The Host — when he saw a newspaper article on a mutations fish in The Han river, Okja — he got the plot idea when he saw a pig walking on the road, Parasite — it was in his mind during the post-production stages of Snowpiercer and his experience during a short stint as a tutor to a wealthy family where he felt he was spying on them. Snowpiercer is based on a graphic novel, which he read uninterruptedly in a bookstore until he finished it. It was an adaptation, but the whole story was rewritten to adjust it into a two-hour movie.
Anyone who has seen Parasite or Snowpiercer can quickly identify the social class inequality in those movies. The differences between the upper class and the lower class can be seen by the camera angles, the costumes they wear, the food they eat, the activities they do and so on. Every scene shows the class inequality in such detail. In a way, Parasite can be seen as a vertical film, dividing the Parks and Kims by a line in every frame possible.
Environment cause: We, humans, are making our planet very hard to sustain. We exploit nature every day with/without our knowledge. The Host is not just a monster movie, it shows how we disturb nature and the way nature gives us back. In Okja, human greed for everything in the world is presented.
Bong Joon-Ho has a unique way of staging scenes. He goes with a rhythm of shots, starting it from the writing-table itself. He loves to use ensemble staging, where the actors in a scene are present together and all of their performances appear on the frame rather than using above shoulder shots. The pub scene in Memories of Murder, the grocery store scene before attacking the creature in The Host, Kim family’s enjoying moments in Park’s house in Parasite, has been shot in that way.
Bong also uses slow-motion shots when necessary — the fight sequence in Snowpiercer, water spilling scene outside Kim’s house and the mobile sequence in Parasite have slow-motion shots with a background score that immerse you into the cinema. He writes certain scenes with a rhythm that stands out in the movies like the chase scene in Okja, the hospital chase scene in The Host, Curtis revolt initiation in the Snowpiercer.
The Oscar award winner mentioned Martin Scorsese as his inspiration and quoted his sentence, “The more personal is more creative,” which received a standing ovation at the ceremony. At the backstage of Oscars, he revealed that he has a bigger plan in the near future after winning the Oscars, for which we have to wait another two years!
I haven’t watched two of Bong’s movies: Mother and Barking Dogs Never Bite yet. I wrote this blog without even knowing the plot of the two films.
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