Bong Joon Ho’s original Netflix film Okja debuts today on the streaming giant after raising a ruckus at the Cannes Film Festival. Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal star in a wild tale about a young South Korean girl (Ahn Seo-hyun) who embarks on an epic quest to reunite with her beloved pet, a giant super pig named Okja, who’s been taken by Swinton’s Mirando Corp., which initially created it as part of a genetically modified pork program. It’s a film that swings crazily, but coherently, between action, adventure, horror, and comedy. As such, it’s something like the culmination of Bong’s career to date, which has been defined by idiosyncratic works that often straddle various genres. While not every one of his prior features is readily available here in the States, all of them are worth seeking out — and, if you have a Netflix account, a good part of that process has now become far easier. If you want to see more from the man behind Okja — one we’d count as among 2017’s best so far — here’s a streaming-guide primer to the South Korean auteur’s work.
Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) – Available on Netflix
Bong’s taste for black humor, violent madness, and social critique are all apparent in his 2000 debut, which concerns an expectant father’s attempts to silence his apartment complex’s noisy dog — by any fatal means necessary — and a young girl’s efforts to get to the bottom of her building’s pooch-nabbing problem. Replete with wacko fantasy sequences, a bouncy score, and a madcap chase sequence, it’s a decidedly jagged affair that aims, at every turn, to flamboyantly push boundaries — and, in doing so, foreshadows the director’s subsequent, stellar output.
Memories of Murder (2003) – Not currently streaming; available on DVD
One of the millennium’s finest films (from any corner of the globe), Bong’s sophomore feature is based on the real-life crime wave perpetrated by Korea’s first serial killer. That fiend’s reign of terror (from 1986 to 1991) baffles police, including detectives played by Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung, who find that their department is ill-equipped to handle such a case — leading to more than a bit of bumbling-cop comedy — and whose futility leads to a despairing portrait of powerlessness and hopelessness that recalls David Fincher’s 2007 masterpiece Zodiac.
The Host (2006) – Available on Netflix
Bong’s true international breakthrough was this 2006 monster mash about a giant aquatic creature that emerges from the Han river — after having been spawned by toxic chemical dumping on the part of the American government — and snatches a young girl, much to her father’s chagrin. Her family’s quest to recover her plays out like a South Korean Spielberg saga, marked by sharply drawn characters, rollicking large-scale action set pieces, and considerable pathos. It remains, to date, his most purely accessible crowd-pleasuer.
Mother (2009) – Available on Netflix
As in Memories of Murder, the police are once again less than totally upright and capable in Mother, Bong’s 2009 thriller. In this case, that spells trouble for a mentally challenged young man who’s accused of killing a young girl and leaving her body on a local rooftop — which, in turn, motivates the boy’s mother (Kim Hye-ja) to embark on her own investigation into the victim, and to go to severe, and severely deranged, lengths to exonerate her son. Bookmarked by unforgettable musical dance sequences, it’s a chilling examination of parental devotion.
Snowpiercer (2013) – Available to rent on iTunes and Google Play
The director’s first English-Korean co-production, this 2013 sci-fi stunner stars Chris Evans as an everyman leading a revolution against the corporate powers-that-be in control of a giant train on which humanity’s remaining members now live, thanks to an apocalyptic new ice age. Also featuring Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris, it’s an alternately exhilarating and despairing action extravaganza marked by Bong’s uniquely strange wit, scathing social commentary, and gift for deranged combat.
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