If you saw the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony, you couldn't miss the South Korean guy with the oversize glasses and flyaway hair who kept walking up to the stage to accept Oscars for "Parasite,” a dark spoof of capitalism. All told, he received four: best international feature, best screenplay, best director and — in a history-making first for a foreign-language film — best picture.
His name is Bong Joon Ho, and while many Americans are probably unfamiliar with him, he's been making movies for more than 20 years. He's one of the leading lights of South Korea's film industry — known as Chungmu-ro, a term you might be hearing more frequently in the future — and is held in high esteem by his Western colleagues. Quentin Tarantino, in particular, has been a supporter, putting some of Bong's movies on his year-end best-of lists. In turn, Bong (that’s the director's family name) honored one of his own heroes at the Oscars when he said, "The most personal is the most creative," then attributed the quote to "our great Martin Scorsese." Cameras caught Scorsese in the audience, looking a little verklempt.
If "Parasite" is your first introduction to Bong's movies, you might want to do some catching up. Here are four earlier efforts from a filmmaker who, in a single night, turned the Academy Awards into a truly global affair.
MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003) In this police procedural based on true events, two detectives (one played by Song Kang Ho, of "Parasite") hunt for the first known serial killer in South Korean history. Though a smash in its native country, the film was limited mostly to the festival circuit here. Tarantino raved about it, though, and most Western critics who saw it gave it strong reviews.
THE HOST (2006) The members of a dysfunctional family battle a fishlike, man-eating creature from the Han River. Bong's update of classic monster-movies — a dash of anti-American sentiment and some not-so-gentle ribbing of South Koreans, too — held its premiere at Cannes and became a critical smash. Fun fact: the fishy creature was modeled on Steve Buscemi in "Fargo."
SNOWPIERCER (2013) Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer and others play post-apocalypse survivors on a train perpetually circumnavigating a frozen Earth. "Snowpiercer" was universally acclaimed for its inventive sets, star-studded cast and relevant themes. It was almost Bong's big American hit — but its box-office momentum was delayed by studio chief Harvey Weinstein, who unsuccessfully pressured Bong to make 20 minutes of cuts and then consigned the film to a limited release.
OKJA (2017) Bong turned to Netflix to make this oddball comedy-adventure about animal rights and environmental problems. The cast included Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton (in a dual role) and Paul Dano, but the real star was the CGI title character — a genetically modified super-pig raised by a young farm girl (Ahn Seo Hyun). The New York Times recently named "Okja" one of the most influential films of the past decade, calling it "a miracle of imagination and technique."
— RAFER GUZMAN