South Korean director Bong Joon-ho made waves in Hollywood with four Academy Award wins in 2020 for his masterpiece film, “Parasite.” American audiences were drawn to Bong’s storytelling, which humanizes the deeply personal struggles of his characters. Our list of the top five best Bong Joon-ho movies contains a slew of intriguing stories and award winners.
Bong Joon-ho is a master of dramatic filmmaking, and by all indications, he will continue to make groundbreaking movies. Bong’s 2000 debut film, “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” mixed dark humor and crisp editing to produce a film that would draw a dedicated following of fans. As his subsequent movies would reveal, Bong built a repertoire of genre films that tackle social commentary through a lens of dark humor.
Bong Joon-ho’s massive Oscar wins with “Parasite” at the 92nd Academy Awards helped grow interest in Korean pop culture and films. This can be seen in the surge of Korean-produced programming featured on Netflix in the United States. Netflix has played a pivotal role in amplifying the genre’s reach, with 60 percent of their United States subscribers having watched Korean shows or movies, according to the streaming platform. The platform’s diverse selection of Korean movies, from gripping thrillers like “Parasite” to heartwarming dramas like “Minari,” has captured the attention of audiences worldwide. This newfound global recognition not only reflects the exceptional storytelling and cinematography of Korean filmmakers but also highlights the streaming giant’s commitment to showcasing international cinema, bridging cultures, and fostering a deeper appreciation for the art of filmmaking beyond Hollywood.
Director Bong Joon-ho offers some great dramatic cinema in the truest sense of the word. Social commentary, editing, cinematography, special effects, and smart writing all come together in Joon-ho’s ever-growing catalog. We turned to our trusted sources to rank the top five best Bong Joon-ho movies. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!
The List: Best Bong Joon-ho Movies, According to Fans
Despite being overshadowed by the next entry on our list, “Memories of Murder” is widely considered to be Bong Joon-ho’s greatest directorial work. It is an adaptation of a stage play and is praised for Joon-ho’s editing and focus on characters. MovieWeb raves, “With a whopping 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, ‘Memories’ is often regarded as one of the greatest films in South Korean history, and it’s also among the most lucrative. If Bong Joon-ho’s feature film ‘Barking Dogs Never Bite’ (2000) was a failure in his eyes, the director must have made a lot of changes in these three short years. It’s likely that ‘Memories of Murder’ will always remain his masterpiece.”
Far Out details, “Loosely based on the real-life case of Korea’s first confirmed serial murders, which took place between 1986 and 1991, Bong Joon-ho’s film follows two detectives who struggle with the case and pursue an unknown culprit. Ill-equipped to deal with such a situation, the small-town cops are faced with an entirely new challenge, with Joon-ho masterfully crafting [facts] into a story that is not only narratively thrilling but also surprisingly funny and emotional.”
Collider chimes in with an observation regarding Bong’s impact on his contemporary director David Fincher: “Bong Joon-ho has long cited David Fincher as a major influence, but it’s easy to see how ‘Memories of Murder’ [influenced] Fincher’s masterpiece ‘Zodiac,’ which similarly dramatized the frustration of a fruitless murder investigation. Master storytellers, in dialogue with one another, across continents and language barriers. Is there anything better?”
“Parasite” is regarded as cinematic perfection by many of our sources. “Parasite” is also cited as one of the most successful South Korean films of all time, earning an excess of $263 million at the box office. Rotten Tomatoes gushes, “‘Parasite,’ [is] the unclassifiable film that has whipped audiences into a frenzy for its twisty plot, brazen character work, and social outrage. ‘Parasite’ made history when it became the first non-English-language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Bong collected that statue at the 2020 ceremony, along with Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best International Film, tying Walt Disney for the most Oscars awarded to a person in a single night.”
GameRant sings his praises, saying “Parasite” was “the magnum opus of his career. This is the film that brought the awards and attention that Bong Joon-ho has deserved his entire career but never received. When seen after all of Bong Joon-ho’s other films, you truly see an amazing filmmaker turn into a master of cinema after sharpening his craft into a dagger. The perfect combination of story, character, theme, music, twists, and his love for putting his politics in his films. Film and the cinema experience don’t get much better.”
Filmmaking Lifestyle lauds, “The film features excellent performances from its talented cast, particularly Song Kang-Ho as the head of the poor family and Lee Sun-Kyun as the head of the wealthy family. The cinematography is beautiful and atmospheric, capturing the mood of the film perfectly. Overall, ‘Parasite’ is a must-see film that combines Bong Joon-ho’s unique style with powerful social commentary and a gripping story. It is a triumph of filmmaking and a testament to the director’s mastery of his craft.”
“Mother” follows an unnamed protagonist on her emotionally tense journey. Bong Joon-ho proves his mastery of film with this drama. ScreenRant explains in greater detail that “‘Mother’ follows a widow as she tries to prove her intellectually disabled adult son isn’t guilty of committing the murder he’s been accused of. What sounds like maudlin Oscar bait on paper is instead a poetic mix of family drama, murder mystery, horror, and humor that’s bolstered by a powerhouse performance from veteran actress Kim Hye-Ja as the movie’s titular, unnamed mother.”
“2009’s ‘Mother’ is a thriller about a codependent mother and her mentally disabled son. The movie follows Kim Hye-Ja’s ‘mother’ as she goes on a desperate attempt to prove her son innocent of murder. ‘Mother’ is perhaps Bong Joon-ho’s most poetic film that blends his rapport with grotesque horror with elements of family drama. Once again, he is able to straddle the line between intense themes and play with humor in a beautiful and intriguing way,” adds CinemaBlend.
“Its unpredictable twists and turns cast Kim Hye-Ja, seen as the maternal archetype in Korea for her other roles in more family-centric titles, as a vengeful protector. There aren’t any supernatural scares in Bong’s fourth movie; just the grotesque horrors that humans can capably wreak on one another,” writes Thrillist.
Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut stars Chris Evans and will later be adapted into an Amazon Prime series. “Snowpiercer” is a science-fiction concept film that explores the post-apocalypse remnant of humanity that survives on a speeding train. Paste exclaims, “There is a sequence midway through ‘Snowpiercer’ that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers currently working. Two armies engage in a no-holds-barred, slow motion-heavy action set piece. Metal clashes against metal, and characters slash through their opponents as if their bodies were made of butter. It’s gory, imaginative, horrifying, beautiful, visceral, and utterly glorious.”
Snowpiercer (2013) dir. Bong Joon-hopic.twitter.com/HAq9xlYDC6
— cinesthetic. (@TheCinesthetic) September 14, 2022
“The film explores themes of class struggle, social inequality, and the will to survive. [‘Snowpiercer’] features stunning visuals, intricate production design, and stunning action sequences. The score is haunting and adds to the film’s overall atmosphere. The cast is excellent, with standout performances from Chris Evans, Song Kang-Ho, and Tilda Swinton,” expounds Filmmaking Lifestyle.
“His first English-language film and biggest-budget project to date was ‘Snowpiercer.’ Similar to ‘Parasite,’ this movie discusses the class system with a physical representation of it. ‘Snowpiercer’ has lower-class workers trying to reach the front of a train during a modern ice age. This is not only one of Bong Joon-ho’s best movies, but an underrated and new turn for ‘Avengers’ actor Chris Evans,” praises CinemaBlend.
“The Host” is a film about a family that struggles against a wretched mutant creature. This film bucks the ‘hidden monster’ trope by revealing its monster in full glory in the opening moments of the movie. MovieWeb details further: “While most filmmakers hide the monster for a good duration of a given horror movie— in order to build suspense until its eventual reveal—Bong shows the monster within minutes of the film’s opening. ‘The Host’ features all the filmmaking elements that have defined [Bong] as one of the 21st century’s foremost auteurs. It’s replete with dark moments that are punctuated by humor to the degree that it sustains the pacing through timing alone.”
THE HOST (2006)
Cinematography by Hyung Koo Kim
Directed by Bong Joon Ho pic.twitter.com/4YoUPOI8Q5
— One Perfect Shot (@OnePerfectShot) February 9, 2022
“Bong Joon-ho’s monster movie, ‘The Host,’ was in many ways the film that would catapult him to international recognition, updating the monster movie genre with pertinent social commentary and avoidance of cliche. Like many films of the same ilk, ‘The Host’ tells us more about the intricacies of human relationships than it does about the psychology of a supernatural titan, with the film following the family of the monster’s victim as they do what they can to rescue her,” states Far Out.
GameRant offers, “For many Bong Joon-ho fans, ‘The Host’ was the entry point to his catalog. Like the previous film, this deals with politics, specifically climate change. But this time features a monster that has emerged from the polluted waters and abducted the daughter of a vendor, played by re-occurring Bong Joon-ho collaborator Song Kang-Ho.”
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- Far Out
- Rotten Tomatoes
- Filmmaking Lifestyle
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