Bong Joon Ho has long been one of South Korea's best filmmakers thanks to acclaimed movies such as “Memories of Murder,” “Mother,” and “The Host,” but it wasn't until 2019 that Bong become a worldwide cinema superstar to the general public. With “Parasite,” Bong vaulted himself into the topmost echelon of the world's best directors working today. “Parasite” world premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it made history by becoming the first South Korean film to win the prestigious Palme d'Or. The months that followed brought Bong to nearly all of awards season's biggest festivals Telluride, Toronto, NYFF and ceremonies Golden Globes, SAG Awards, DGA Awards, Critic's Choice, etc.. Bong's incredible journey with “Parasite” culminated in six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. The drama is the first South Korean film to compete for Academy Awards in the Oscars' 92-year history.
With Bong now a household name across the world, it might be of interest to watch some of the films the South Korean auteur considers to be his personal favorites. Bong is a great director, but he's also an avid cinephile who loves talking about films and raising awareness of some of the best Asian filmmakers who came before him, including Kim Ki-young, Shohei Imamura, and Keisuke Kinoshita.
Below is a list of 30 films Bong Joon Ho loves. The films are presented in alphabetical order.
Photo : Criterion
“The 400 Blows,” Francois Truffaut
Bong Joon Ho told The Criterion Collection that Francois Truffaut's 1959 French New Wave classic is “the most beautiful feature film debut in the history of cinema.” The coming-of-age drama stars Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, a rebellious young Parisian boy who clashes against the rules placed upon him by his parents and school teachers. “The 400 Blows” is commonly referred to as one of the greatest films ever made and is also included on Martin Scorsese's list of his favorite films.
Photo : Criterion
“The Ballad of Narayama,” Keisuke Kinoshita
Bong placed Keisuke Kinoshita's 1958 Japanese period drama “The Ballad of Narayama” on his Criterion Top 10, praising the director's “bold colors” for making an impact on him. The Criterion synopsis reads: “Set in a remote mountain village where food is scarce and tradition dictates that citizens who have reached their 70th year must be carried to the summit of Mount Narayama and left there to die, the film follows Orin Kinuyo Tanaka, a dignified and dutiful woman who spends her dwindling days securing the happiness of her loyal widowed son with a respectable new wife.”
Bong Joon Ho told Criterion the joy of Spike Jonze's “Being John Malkovich” is that it provides the chance “to go inside his head and explore the corners of his mind.” The 1999 comedy-drama marked the feature film debuts of Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. John Cusack stars as a failed puppeteer whose career and romantic fortunes are thrown into a whirlwind after he discovers a portal that gives him the ability to inhabit the actor John Malkovich's mind. Jonze and Kaufman landed Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, while Catherine Keener was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
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“A City of Sadness,” Hou Hsiao-hsien
Bong Joon Ho contributed his list of the 10 best films ever made for the 2012 Sight and Sound poll and includedHou Hsiao-hsien's 1989 historical drama “A City of Sadness.” The film follows the hardships a Taiwanese family endures during the White Terror, in which China'sKuomintang government arrived in the country and imprisoned and/or murdered thousands of people. “A City of Sadness” made history as the firstTaiwanese film to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Photo : Film at Lincoln Center
“Cure,” Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Bong listed Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 1997 crime drama “Cure” as one of the best movies ever made on his 2012 Sight and Sound poll, saying it was one of the films that had the “biggest impact” on his career as a director. Kurosawa's script centers around a detective investigating a series of mysterious and violent murders in which the killers all have no memory of the gruesome acts they've committed. “There's a sense of horror that trickles down your spine while watching it,” Bong told Birth.Movies.Death. last year about the film. “Cure” opened in Japan in 1997, six years before Bong would release his own crime masterpiece “Memories of Murder.”
When New York City's Film at Lincoln Center celebrated Bong Joon Ho with a complete retrospective of his work through “Parasite” appropriately titled The Bong Show, they also allowed the filmmaker to curate his own selection of retrospective screenings. Included in the program was “Deliverance,” John Boorman's 1972 thriller about four male friends who set on a canoe trip through Georgia only to experience unplanned horrors.
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“Fargo,” Joel and Ethan Coen
Some critics compared the dark comedic edge of “Parasite” to the films of Joel and Ethan Coen, which was most likely intentional on Bong's part because of how much he adores the filmmaking duo. Bong included “Fargo” on his Sight and Sound poll of the 10 greatest films of all time. “Fargo” was a critical and commercial sensation in 1996, grossing $60 million worldwide on a $7 million budget and earning seven Academy Awards. The movie won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress for Frances McDormand, and Best Original Screenplay.
Bong told Vanity Fair this year that John Sturges' “The Great Escape” was a childhood favorite of his and that he has a dream one day to direct a big action movie in the same vein. “The Great Escape” featured Steve McQueen in one of his most recognizable roles. Bong said, “I remember having cold sweats all over my body while watching it. It's a story about someone escaping the prison camps during World War II, but there's a strange sense of romance in that film, and I would love to do something like that.”
Photo : Criterion
“The Housemaid,” Kim Ki-young
Given how much Bong Joon Ho spoke about “Parasite” being influenced by Kim Ki-young's 1960 South Korean drama “The Housemaid,” it's not too surprising to see the director included the movie on his Sight and Sound list of the greatest films ever made. Like “Parasite,” “The Housemaid” is almost entirely set in a house and deals with a house worker trying to dismantle the upper class family she works for. “It's a crime melodrama inspired by an actual event Kim read in a newspaper,” Bong once told Criterion. “It's a crime melodrama that deals with women's sexual desires and Korean society at the time and the changing social classes. It does a great job depicting that.”
Photo : Film at Lincoln Center
“Intensions of Murder,” Shohei Imamura
Shohei Imamura's 1964 psychological drama stars Masumi Harukawa as Sadako, a housewife who is assaulted by a burglar and must reconcile her desires to give in to his subsequent advances or take revenge and murder him. Bong hand-selected the film to screen at his New York City retrospective. Shohei Imamura is a personal favorite director of Bong Joon Ho's. Imamura would go on remake another of Bong's favorite movies, “The Ballad of Narayama,” in 1983. Imamura's “Narayama” won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The director would win the Palme again in 1997 with “The Eel,” making him the only director from Japan to earn Cannes' biggest honor twice.
Photo : Film at Lincoln Center
“Io Island,” Kim Ki-young
Kim Ki-young might just be Bong Joon Ho's favorite director of all time. Bong selected Kim's 1997 drama “Io Island” to screen during Film at Lincoln Center's retrospective of his work. The film is a murder mystery that centers around a businessman who is accused of killing a man from the eponymous island. After he is acquitted of the crime, the businessman ventures to Io Island himself to uncover the truth about the victim's disappearance. After winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes with “Parasite,” Bong said he'd like to raise the profile of South Korean films around the world by showing retrospectives of films like the ones made by Kim Ki-young.
“The actors and characters in Mike Leigh's films are always shockingly vivid and alive,” Bong Joon Ho told The Criterion Collection while selecting “Life Is Sweet” for his Criterion Top 10. Leigh's third feature, “Life Is Sweet” was named the best film of 1992 by the National Society of Film Critics. The film takes place over a few weeks one summer as a working-class family living in the suburbs just north of London struggle their way through tragicomic encounters. Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent play the parents, while Claire Skinner and Jane Horrocks star as the couple's polar opposite twin daughters. Horrocks was awarded a Best Supporting Actress prize from the Los AngelesFilm Critics Association.
Photo : Criterion
“Lola Montes,” Max Ophlus
When asked to give an explanation for putting “Lola Montes” on his Criterion Collection Top 10, Bong Joon Ho bluntly stated, “It's Max Ophüls!” The German filmmaker's 1955 historical romance his final film, no less was the most expensive European production ever at the time of release and infamously flopped at the box office. Martine Carol stars as the notorious courtesan and showgirl, whose life is retold through the stories of an American circus ringmaster Peter Ustinov who worked with her.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” might get all the attention when talking about George Miller's action franchise, but Bong Joon Ho has a special place in his heart for the series' second installment, 1981's “The Road Warrior.” Bong said last year in a video interview with Variety, “I am a crazy fan of the film. I have watched it more than 20 times. 'Fury Road' is also amazing. I cried watching that movie when the cars are swept up into the sandstorm and the music escalates, I felt like my soul was escalating too and tears just came out of my eyes. It's a film you just watch without saying anything. It's a master at work.
Bong Joon Ho told IndieWire at the end of 2019 that Ari Aster's “Midsommar” was one of the best films of the year, and he's continued to champion the “daylight” horror movie to other publications in the weeks since. Bong is guest editing for the March 2020 edition of Sight and Sound magazine and named “Midsommar” and Ari Aster as paving the way for the future of cinema. “I met Ari Aster once in New York,” Bong told the magazine. “He's a unique guy. I love his talent.”
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“Nashville,” Robert Altman
“There have been many 'tapestry films,' including Altman's own 'Short Cuts' and Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Magnolia,'” Bong Joon Ho told The Criterion Collection, “But I believe 'Nashville' will always be the best in the class.” Altman's 1975 movie “Nashville” features one of his most memorable and sprawling ensemble casts, including Ned Beatty, Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin, Jeff Goldblum, Scott Glenn, Karen Black, and Geraldine Chaplin. The script, which Altman co-wrote with Jerry Weintraub, follows 24 characters involved in the country music and gospel scene in the lead up to a concert for a third-party candidate for President.
Every director has at least one Hitchcock movie on his or list of the best films ever made. For Bong, the Hitchcock movie that stands above the rest is “Psycho.” The 1960 psychological horror movie is included on Bong's Sight and Sound poll and it was one of the movies Bong watched before filming “Parasite” for inspiration. “He always gives me very strange inspiration,” Bong told Vanity Fair last year about Hitchcock. “I rewatched 'Psycho' because the Bates house, not the motel, it had a very interesting structure.”
Bong is nominated for Best Director this year with “Parasite” opposite Martin Scorsese for “The Irishman.” Scorsese just so happens to be one of Bong's favorite directors and “Raging Bull” is listed as one of the greatest films ever made on Bong's Sight and Sound poll. Bong told TIFF in 2019 that “Raging Bull” is one of three Scorsese masterworks along with “After Hours” and “Goodfellas.” “Many people can say in the movie there is amazing camerawork, editing, and beautiful black-and-white cinematography, but for me it is a very unique portrait of one man,” Bong said of “Raging Bull.” “From one perspective, he's a disgusting person. He's contradictory and problematic. It's a portrait of human complexities and weakness. I think it's the most honest portrayal of the conflicts and complexities of one man.”
“Wes Anderson's films are delightfully strange and endearing,” Bong Joon Ho told The Criterion Collection when putting “Rushmore” on his Top 10 list. Anderson's 1998 coming-of-age comedy stars Jason Schwartzman as ambitious high school student Max Fischer and Bill Murray as the wehy industrialist Herman Blume, both of which are in love with elementary school teacher Rosemary Cross Olivia Williams. “Rushmore” marked Schwartzman's acting debut and the first of many collaborations between Anderson and Murray, who received Indie Spirit Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor.
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“Seconds,” John Frankenheimer
John Frankenheimer's “Seconds” was hand-picked by Bong Joon Ho to screen at a retrospective series of his favorite films at New York City's Film at Lincoln Center. The 1966 science-fiction drama competed at the Cannes Film Festival and earned DP James Wong Howe an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. John Randolph stars as Arthur Hamilton, an unhappy middle-aged man who agrees to an offer from a mysterious company that promises to fake his death and allow him the chance to have a fresh start with a new identity. The procedure works as Hamilton wakes up in a new body now played by Rock Hudson, but it has unexpected consequences.
While curating a series of favorite movies during Film at Lincoln Center's retrospective of his career, Bong Joon Ho selected John Carpenter's “Thing” to screen. Carpenter's 1982 science-fiction movie is widely considered one of the best body horror films ever made. The project is based on John W. Campbell Jr.'s 1938 novella, which had been previously made into 1951's “The Thing from Another World.” Carpenter's adaptation is remembered far more fondly. Kurt Russell stars as a helicopter pilot battling a parasitic life-form in Antarctica that imitates other organisms.
Photo : Criterion
“Things to Come,” William Cameron Menzies
Bong Joon Ho told Criterion that H.G. Welles' science-fiction novels “thoroughly excited” him in his childhood, thus Welles' script for William Cameron Menzies's 1936 movie “Things to Come” made it an easy selection for his Criterion Top 10. Welles wrote the script by reworking his own story, 1933's “The Shape of Things to Come.” Welles' ambitious script spans decades and tracks the aftermath of a World War as businessman John Cabal attempts to rebuild civilization through time travel.
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“Touch of Evil,” Orson Welles
Orson Welles' 1958 noir “Touch of Evil” is listed on Bong's Sight and Sound poll of the greatest movies of all time. Welles stars in the film opposite Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh in the story of murder and kidnapping terrorizing a U.S.-Mexico border town. Bong told Vanity Fair this year that one of his dream projects to make in America is “a moody noir in the vein of Orson Welles's 'Touch of Evil,' set along the U.S. border with Mexico.”
When speaking to IndieWire about his favoritefilms of 2019, Bong listed “Uncut Gems” among the year's cinematic highlights. The Josh and Benny Safdie-directed drama stars Adam Sandler as a self-destructive gambing addict trying to claw his way out of escalating debt. Bong was one of the biggest champions of “Uncut Gems” throughout awards season, praising the film's “energetic style” in a Reddit AMA where he also revealed, “I would love to work with Adam Sandler if the opportunity comes. I really loved him in 'Punch-Drunk Love,' 'The Meyerowitz Stories,' and 'Uncut Gems.'”
Photo : Criterion
“Vengeance Is Mine,” Shohei Imamura
Shohei Imamura's 1979 serial killer drama “Vengeance Is Mine” stars Iwao Enokizu as real-life murderer Akira Nishiguchi, who made headlines for killing two people while also committing fraud. Bong listed “Vengeance Is Mine” as one of the best films ever made. The movie won the Best Picture honor at the Japanese Academy Awards, while Enokizu's performance nabbed Best Actor honors at the Yokohama Film Festival.
Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 thriller “The Wages of Fear” is one of 10 films Bong Joon Ho included on his list of the greatest films ever made. The movie follows four European men tasked with driving trucks over dangerous terrain to put out a massive fire burning down a South American oil well. “The Wages of Fear” became the rare movie to win both the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Photo : Field Guide/Film Science/Glass Eye/Kobal/Shutterstock
“Wendy and Lucy,” Kelly Reichardt
Looking for a perfect movie opening? Bong Joon Ho says look no further than Kelly Reichardt's 2008 drama “Wendy and Lucy.” The director told Vanity Fair this year the opening tracking shot that follows Michelle Williams' Wendy and her dog is “one of the most beautiful opening scenes in the history of the movies.” Bong is also a fan of Reichardt's most recent directorial effort, “First Cow.” The A24-backed indie world premiered at Telluride 2019 and Bong listed it as one of his favorite films of the year. A24 is opening “First Cow” in theaters March 6.
Many critics refer to Bong Joon Ho's “Memories of Murder” as the director's “Zodiac,” referring to David Fincher's crime masterpiece, but “Murder” was released four years before Fincher's movie. Regardless, Bong believes “Zodiac” is one of the greatest films of all time. Speaking to Birth.Movies.Death last year, Bong said of Fincher's movie, “It has a slow tempo and a very realistic mood. I'm amazed at how Fincher can control the pace of his films so well, which creates a sense of suspense in serene fashion. You experience a sense of anxiety but also suspense with sensitivity and stillness.”