Asian cinema has become quite prominent in the horror genre in recent years, but there is also a growing movement of great directors that are not limited or tied to a particular genre. When it comes to the South Korean New Wave, Park Chan-Wook and Bong Joon-ho have left indelible marks in world cinema.
Although the former is definitely talented and demonstrates visual mastery, I much prefer the works of Bong Joon-ho. His cinema is known for crossing genres, often within the same scene; at the same time, he also has a mischievous knack for absurd humor. But when all is said and done, his movies also reveal depths of and fondness for humanity and the human condition.
5. Barking dogs never bite (2000)
This is his debut and in my view, his least successful film. That does not, however, mean that it is bad since the standards that this great director has come to set are quite high. For any other director this would be a great film and considering it is his first, it is still quite accomplished.
His trademark move of mixing genres and making you laugh and gasp in horror at the same time is still prevalent. It is about an emotionally volatile would-be professor who cannot handle the neighbor’s barking dog in his apartment complex, so he decides to take drastic measures. It turns out that he had targeted the wrong dog, so he continues to trace and follow the other canine culprit. And there is also a watchman who secretly makes dog broth.
Needless to say that this is definitely not a treat for dog lovers who should in fact give this movie a wide berth. Although the film-maker claims that no animals were harmed during the making of the movie, can we really trust him on that?
There are two chasing scenes both of which are hilarious and suspenseful. In one a girl who wishes to become a hero and be showcased in the local news chases the professor; in the other, she is being chased by a homeless person who was attempting to roast a dog.
4. Snowpiercer (2013)
This is his first foray into English-speaking territory. But despite the fact that most of it is in English does not mean that this movie is tame. In terms of violence and absurdity it ranks quite high for this Korean film-maker. It also has an underlying message of protecting the environment as well the consequences of global warming.
Basically, it is about a train that goes in circles without stopping, while outside the temperature is too cold for human survival. Inside, there are clearly set hierarchies, which a few revolutionaries try to break. It is Lord of the Flies meets Speed written by Big Brother on acid.
Definitely Tilda Swinton showing how NOT to use a shoe is one of my favorite scenes of the film. She is at her creepiest best. Moreover, the scene that involves kids being taught about their leader is typical Bong territory.
3. The Host (2006)
Some critics claim that Hollywood films usually wine and dine their viewers before presenting them the monster. Not so in this film as we see the culprit wreaking havoc early on. The creation of this monster is due to hazardous materials jettisoned into the water, which shows an environmentally aware sly undertone to the whole story. Yet it is also full of tragic and humorous encounters and the type of movie that handily puts Godzilla and other monster movies to shame.
An early scene where our somewhat dimwitted but lovable hero tries to save his niece from the monster but mistakes her with a random school girl. His expression when he realizes he is holding the wrong hand is priceless. The cross-eyed English-speaking scientist adds an odd touch to this magnificient film.
2. Mother (2009)
This movie is quite touching and could have played as predictable drama but in the hands of this master, it turns out to be so much more. It is not only about a grieving mother but also a mystery involving a killer. I found this film quite interesting due to its emotional depth and resonance, while the absurd aspects have been somewhat reduced.
Definitely the opening sequence in which the main character dances in the fields. It is both funny and tragic, and the viewer does not know how to exactly react. This malaise continues until we get to the title credit where the mood abruptly changes and we realize that we will be facing a tragic story.
1. Memories of Murder (2003)
This was the first film I saw by this talented director. Although I had read good reviews, I was stunned at how good the movie was and how the director showed control and mastery of his craft. It was visually stunning and the story was complex and intriguing. In a way, it reminded me of David Fincher's Zodiac (2007) although technically speaking Memories of Murder predated that film by about four years and unlike Fincher's gritty tale, this film is imbued with shots of absurd humor.
The cross-dressing suspect was a strange but interesting phenomenon, but nothing compares to the final shot. Like the Zodiac, the real-life serial killer was never apprehended, so when the detective stares into the camera and most likely into the eyes of the assassin, I could not withold shivers down my spine.