This weekend, the Oscars clued into a fact that #BongHive members around the world have known for quite some time: Korean cinema really is that good. And one of its most promising talents, director Bong Joon-ho, has finally assumed his spot atop the Hollywood hierarchy, taking home a staggering amount of golden trophies during the 92nd Academy Awards and breaking all kinds of records for his latest film, Parasite.
If you haven’t already, you should see it, this twisted tragicomedy that audiences and Academy members can’t get enough of, but it’s not the only Bong creation that trades in mind-bending turns and social justice metaphors. In fact, there are plenty of his films available to stream right now, and we’re listing them here in case you’ve got a sickness, and the only prescription is more Bong Joon-ho, baby.
Here are some of the director’s greatest hits.
What It’s About: The joy of Parasite’s meteoric rise this awards season — besides watching a cheeky Bong Joon-ho absolutely roast the Academy Awards and shame us all for not liking subtitles — was that all of the praise and adulation never came at the expense of spoiling the film’s game-changing twist. And we refuse to break that streak here. We can say that the movie, set in Seoul and centering on two families living on opposite sides of the increasingly chasmic wealth gap, is a thrilling, suspenseful hodgepodge of not-so-subtle metaphors and allegories about the destructive nature of capitalism. It’s also about peaches and young adults and Ram-Don and body odor. Interested yet?
Where To Watch: Netflix
What It’s About: This dystopian epic was previously Bong’s most mainstream hit — until Parasite came along and embarrassed the hell out of all the other 2020 Oscar nominees. It’s still his best foray into the genre world, tackling issues of social inequality and the earth-destroying consequences of climate change through a sci-fi lens. The film, an adaptation of a French graphic novel, is set in a frozen dystopia where the last surviving bits of humanity live on a high speed, perpetual-motion, engine-powered train that continuously circles the Earth. The wealthy class live in the front, enjoying raves and fresh sushi and opium dens, and the poor take up space in the tail where they once dined on fresh babies (the lack of food led to cannibalism and a truly iconic piece of cinema in which Chris Evans utters the line, “I know babies taste best”) and now exist on gelatinous cubes of cockroach mush. Evans plays the film’s guilt-ridden hero, who leads a rebellion that takes him and a group of revolutionaries all the way to the front of the train, but along the way we’re treated to some truly brilliant movie-making moments. Read: Tilda Swinton sporting nightmarishly large dentures.
The Host (2013)
What It’s About: When Quentin Tarantino includes your sci-fi horror flick on his list of Top 20 films, you know you’ve made a kick-ass monster movie. With The Host, Bong, once again directs his lens to Korea’s politically murky past, modeling a gory, frightening message about the impact of governments — both native and foreign — abusing their power and taking advantage of their citizens. Inspired by a news story that claimed that the U.S. military, working in Seoul, ordered a Korean mortician to dump a large amount of formaldehyde down the drain, this film imagines what would happen if those chemicals infiltrated a major river, creating a fish-like demon who swallows children whole and wreaks havoc on unsuspecting innocents. The story is fairly tragic, following a father who’s fighting to save his daughter, but it hits harder because of it, delivering a surprising amount of emotion along with the fright and gore you’d expect of Korean New Wave horror.
Where To Watch: Netflix
What It’s About: Bong prefers to create movies that address various social justice issues but with Okja, a Netflix-backed environmentalist rally cry, he manipulates all the feels to tell a story of friendship and animal rights. The story follows a young girl named Mija whose father, a farmer in Korea, raises a super pig named Okja. Okja is the product of a think tank led by an “environmentalist” named Lucy Mirando (a deliciously evil Tilda Swinton) who claims to have found a way to feed the masses without making a large carbon footprint. Okja is to be bred and harvested per this new system, and most of the film follows Mija desperately trying to save her childhood friend with the help of a radical group of animal rights activists. It’s emotional terrorism, but for a good cause.
What It’s About: Another dark family drama, this mystery thriller centers on an unnamed woman, the title character, who lives with her mentally challenged teenage son and has a side hustle performing acupuncture for women in her neighborhood. When her son is used as a scapegoat in the murder of a young woman, she goes on a crusade to find the real killer. It’s a journey that leads her to confront some harsh truths about herself and her child. Bong is just perfecting the kind of edge-of-your-seat filmmaking he’s become known for here, but he’s already a master of digging into the uncomfortable nooks of the human psyche and spinning them for our amusement.