When Parasite (2019) won Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards, many audiences were introduced to director Bong Joon Ho for the first time.
Those familiar with his prior filmography, however, may have felt these accolades were a long time coming. Since 2000, the South Korean auteur has directed a number of films spanning dark comedy, monster thriller, detective thriller, action-adventure, dystopian sci-fi, and more.
Here’s a brief introduction to all of his films, as well as information on where you can watch them.
In Barking Dogs Never Bite, a graduate student is driven to extreme action after a dog’s barking annoys him to no end. Bong Joon Ho’s first film is a bit rough around the edges, but it establishes many of the techniques and themes that constitute his style. At times you may laugh in enjoyment, at times you may cringe in discomfort, but there is always something interesting happening on screen.
Watch for the way Bong frames characters, his usage of straight-on versus lateral shots, and the underlying critique on capitalism and corruption in South Korea.
You can stream Barking Dogs Never Bite on Hulu.
Inspired by South Korea’s most famous serial killer, who was still unnamed at the time of this film’s release, Memories of Murder shows three police officers’ descent into desperation as a skilled killer commits murder after murder. Bong refines both signature techniques and signature gags in this crime thriller like no other—watch for straight-on shots, ensemble staging, layered action, and the hilarious flying kick.
This film demonstrates remarkable maturation of style in a sophomore project, establishing Bong early on as a name to be remembered. It also marks the first collaboration between Bong and actor Song Kang Ho, a partnership that deserves a place next to legendary collaborations like De Niro-Scorsese.
Memories of Murder is not currently streaming, as Parasite distributor Neon recently acquired the rights and is planning for a theatrical re-release.
With his third film, a monster movie with a socially critical bite, Bong Joon Ho broke into mainstream superstardom—The Host became (at the time) the highest grossing South Korean film ever. Buckle up for a thrilling ride that blends monster horror, conspiracy thriller, and family melodrama. Notice how Bong’s techniques builds tension and heightens fear, and pay attention to how his portrayal of family starts to tease at and lay a foundation for Parasite.
Bong’s social critique is perhaps most direct in this film, as it takes inspiration from actual events in 2000 when a Korean mortician in Seoul was ordered by the US military to dump large amounts of formaldehyde down the drain. As the film satirizes American military activity, Korean governmental bureaucracy, and even Korean youth protestors, no one is safe from Bong’s critique—nor the monster of the Han River.
You can stream The Host on Hulu.
With his fourth film, Bong Joon Ho returns to more familiar territory: this crime thriller focuses on a mother’s quest to exonerate her intellectually challenged son. Similarly revolving around a murder in a small town, Mother recalls many elements from Memories of Murder in order to echo techniques and themes while subverting viewer’s expectations.
Watch out for the telephoto profile shot, as well as various recalls to stylistic quirks of both Barking Dogs Never Biteand Memories of Murder. Mother guides viewers to the edge of humanity, where it displays the darkest manifestations of our brightest virtues. You may find yourself torn between feeling empathetic and feeling disturbed.
You can stream Mother on Hulu.
Bong Joon Ho brings his talents to science-fiction in his first English-speaking film—the Czech-Korean co-produced Snowpiercer. Set in a dystopian future where all of humanity lives on a train, hurtling along on a frozen Earth, this film gives Bong the perfect backdrop to decorate with his unique style.
His signature lateral shots gain narrative and thematic weight as the revolters fight from one end of the train to the other. The progression of narrative through discreet cars gives Bong a segmented canvas on which to paint rich explorations of dystopian issues. The Host actors Song Kang-Ho and Go Ah-Sung join names more recognizable to Western audiences—Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, etc.— for a chilling and thought-provoking tale about humanity’s need for equilibrium.
You can stream Snowpiercer on Netflix.
Catering again toward Western audiences, Bong Joon Ho partnered with Netflix to create Okja, an action-adventure film following a young Korean girl’s efforts to save a genetically modified “superpig” from becoming someone else’s dinner. Starring familiar faces like Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, Okja exudes a more mainstream vibe while staying true to the Bong style.
Bong satirizes both meat corporations and animal rights activists, juxtaposes the idyllic Korean countryside against the bustling American metropolis, and balances comedy, action, and horror in this ever-entertaining tale of pre-teen, female heroism. For those who appreciate Bong’s style in lighter doses, Okja is the perfect blend of Bong Joon Ho and Hollywood.
You can stream Okja on Netflix.
Bong’s esteemed filmography culminates (so far) in Parasite, the first ever non-English film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Entertaining, shocking, and thought-provoking, Parasite pits the Kim family of charlatans against the wealthy Park household in a tale of two homes.
Here we see Bong at the peak of his craft. The film combines the tonal shifts of Barking Dogs, the ensemble staging of Memories of Murder, the family dynamics of The Host, the ugly humanity of Mother, the positional symbolism of Snowpiercer, and the stylistic polish of Okja. Capitalism returns as the antagonist, but Bong voices his critique with the most fresh and unique of perspectives.
Having gripped audiences everywhere, Parasite forces us to consider the possibility that the greatest director of our generation may just be an eccentric man from South Korea.
You can stream Parasite on Hulu.