Bong Joon Ho (#110 of 10)

Cannes Film Review: Okja

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Cannes Film Review: Okja

Netflix

Cannes Film Review: Okja

Ten years on from his breakout hit, The Host, South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho seems intent on recreating the crossover appeal of his genre-bending monster flick for a Western audience. Okja, Bong’s Netflix-produced, environmentalist-themed adventure fantasy, also draws from 2013’s Snowpiercer, the filmmaker’s first English-language effort, specifically in its clear contempt for dehumanizing capitalism.

Bong has proven capable of uniting a variety of different tonal ambitions with some razor-sharp satire and impeccable craftsmanship, but Okja feels jarringly disorganized and rudderless for much of its runtime. Even at its best, the film merely musters convincingly imitative set pieces, the highlight of which is a chase scene—cut ironically to the John Denver ballad “Annie’s Song”—that ends with the unimaginative recycling of an action beat from The Host’s funniest sequence. Bong’s filmmaking is so singularly impressive that even at its most derivative, Okja feels like a momentous spectacle, but it’s the first film of his ever to give the impression that the spectacle is masking an otherwise underdeveloped, often incoherent, concept.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Steven Boone’s Top 10 Films of All Time

There are simply too many amazing films—thousands, really—that could occupy every slot on this list just as confidently as the ones that are here. So I chose great ones that, whether or not it was the authors' intent, protest the way systems, traditions and institutions threaten to break or trap individuals. Some celebrate how people manage to hold onto themselves or each other during the assault. Others dramatize defeat (see numbers five, six, nine, and 10). This quality in movies is more desperately needed right now and more enduring over time than such film critic checklist items as technical virtuosity and screenplay structure. The vast majority of people who watch movies are the ones who bear the yoke, and last century's problem was too many films made to satisfy those who wield the whip. We, the people, are still stuck in that false reality of virtual freedom, every time we turn on the TV, click through a corporate banner ad, or look up and see more billboard than sky.

New Directors/New Films 2011: Curling

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New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Curling</em>
New Directors/New Films 2011: <em>Curling</em>

The last several years have seen the influx of a number of films about characters shielding either themselves or their families from the alleged dangers of the world, confining their lives to a greater or lesser degree to the relative safety of the domestic fortress. Call it Shut-In Cinema. To Ursula Meier's Home, Anders Edström and C. W. Winter's The Anchorage, Yorgos Lanthimos's Dogtooth, and Bong Joon-ho's segment in the anthology film Tokyo!, we can now add Denis Côté's Curling, making its New York debut at New Directors/New Films. Rivaling The Anchorage, the best of the above listed works, in its combination of utter precision of detail and overwhelming sense of mystery, Côté's film makes for instructive comparison with the movie it most superficially resembles, Lanthimos's celebrated tale of overprotective parenting gone bonkers.

Oscar 2011 Nomination Predictions: Directing

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Oscar 2011 Nomination Predictions: Directing
Oscar 2011 Nomination Predictions: Directing

The big question surrounding this category this year isn't whether the Oscars are just finally catching up to what Entertainment Weekly was calling a new cinematic renaissance back in 1999, especially now that the directors of Fight Club and Three Kings seem so much more willing to sublimate their own personalities (to the point that the director of the former recently insinuated he's not all that big a fan of the movie that's eventually going to win him the Oscar). The real question is what exact atrocities Christopher Nolan fanboys will be inflicting on themselves if their dark knight isn't nominated yet again. Until they expand this category to 10 nominations too, we're having a hard time seeing him being anything other than a potential spoiler for those last few slots. Certainly not the David Fincher-esque frontrunner everyone else seems confident he is.

New York Film Festival 2010: Poetry

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New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Poetry</em>
New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Poetry</em>

Mija (Yun Jung-hee) is the antithesis of the title character in Bong Joon-ho's Mother. Where the mother in that film insisted that her son was being framed for the murder of a young woman, doggedly tracking down leads until she unearthed the truth, Mija knows as soon as she hears it that Wook (Lee David), the impassive grandson she's raising, was partly responsible for the suicide of a girl in his high school class. For Mija, the question is not how to prove Wook's innocence, but how to do something much harder: She must figure out what justice looks like in a case like this and how to make sure it is done, without betraying her beloved grandson.

New York Film Festival 2009: Wussup Haters?

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New York Film Festival 2009: Wussup Haters?
New York Film Festival 2009: Wussup Haters?

The eponymous, middle-aged heroine (Kim Hye-ja) in Bong Joon-Ho's Mother, looks puzzlingly at a youngster retouching photographs on a computer and remarks: “There's nothing you can't do these days.” In Alain Resnais' Wild Grass, mercurial retiree Georges Palet (André Dussollier) spots the outline of a girl's black panties showing through her slacks and disgustedly thinks, “Everything is acceptable nowadays.” It makes sense that these similarly-phrased expressions of awe and repugnance occurred during the New York Film Festival; they mirror many critics' reactions to this year's slate. It's too much, they said, too declassé, too (shibboleth coming…) elitist. What they meant was “behave!” The most piqued and fustian of the objectors was the New York Times' A.O. Scott, who dubbed it “a panorama of pessimism.” Where were all the “middlebrow” films, he wondered?—presumably meaning something on the more friendly order of past selections like Sideways. Never mind that Hollywood isn't making such things right now. This was all the programmers' fault!

The Host is Hungry

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<em>The Host</em> is Hungry
<em>The Host</em> is Hungry

Scott Wilson's deliciously hammy presence as the American captain in the opening scene indicates that Bong Joon-ho's The Host is, in the broadest sense, a politically charged diatribe against both American and Korean political cover-up machinations of misinformation. But that aspect is rather bland in comparison to what else the film has to offer. For, like any great monster movie, this isn't a film strictly about a monster (or, for that matter, the monstrous countries that spawned it), but about something else—like the significance of sustenance. That is, The Host is a movie chiefly concerned with food: who-how-where we get it from, what it is we choose to eat, and why we eat it at all.