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Bong Joon-ho at Okja Japan Premiere. Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson from Tokyo, Japan
Bong Joon-ho at Okja Japan Premiere. Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson from Tokyo, Japan

Film at Lincoln Center will present The Bong Show, a retrospective of internationally beloved South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, January 7 to 14.

Bong Joon Ho’s ability to unexpectedly and effortlessly blend genres and tones has put him at the forefront of international cinema. His skills have been on fierce display from his very first feature, the brilliantly cracked Barking Dogs Never Bite, to his widely celebrated latest, Parasite. In honor of that Palme d’Or–winning masterpiece, Film at Lincoln Center will present all of Bong’s features and a selection of shorts, plus a carte blanche of favorite films handpicked by the director himself and in person appearances to be confirmed.

Highlights of the retrospective include the whimsical yet unsettling fable Okja, deftly blending humor, pathos, and the evils of capitalism; the genre-defying NYFF47 selection Mother, starring veteran South Korean actress Kim Hye-ja in a powerhouse performance; and several films featuring Bong’s frequent collaborator and Parasite star Song Kang Ho: haunting police procedural Memories of Murder, based on the true story of South Korea’s first serial killer; Bong’s star-studded English language debut Snowpiercer, a class uprising thriller co-starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and Ed Harris; and The Host (NYFF44), which combines creature-feature thrills with human drama and co-stars Barking Dogs Never Bite actress Bae Doona. The series will also showcase a selection of Bong’s short film work, including his shocking found footage-style short Influenza and Shaking Tokyo, Bong’s segment of the cinematic triptych Tokyo!

The Bong Show also features an eclectic carte blanche of cinematic favorites chosen by Bong Joon Ho himself, with highlights including Kim Ki-young’s folk mystery Io Island; John Frankenheimer’s sinister sci-fi drama Seconds; Henri-George Clouzot’s Palme d’Or-winning The Wages of Fear; horror classics like John Carpenter’s The Thing and John Boorman’s Deliverance; and two works from Japanese masters, Shohei Imamura‘s Intentions of Murder and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure.

FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS

All screenings take place at the Walter Reade Theater (165 W 65th St) unless otherwise noted.

Barking Dogs Never Bite / Flandersui gae
Bong Joon Ho, South Korea, 2000, 35mm, 110m
Korean with English subtitles
Bong’s brilliantly cracked first feature displays the audacious blending of genres and tones that would soon put him at the forefront of Korean cinema. Perturbed by the incessant yapping of a neighbor’s dog, a frazzled, out-of-work academic (Lee Sung-jae) resorts to drastic measures to quiet the canine, setting into motion a hilariously warped chain of events that turns a humble office worker (the brilliant Bae Doona, channeling Giulietta Masina) into a crusading, puppy-saving avenger. As always with Bong, black comedy, touches of horror, and incisive social commentary are balanced with the precision of a Swiss timepiece.

The Host / Gwoemul
Bong Joon Ho, South Korea, 2006, 35mm, 120m
Korean and English with English subtitles
Bong followed his critically acclaimed Memories of Murder with this Seoul-set giant monster spectacle starring Song Kang Ho and Bae Doona. After an enormous amphibious mutant—rendered as alternately chaotic, lethal, and clumsy—emerges from the Han River and begins attacking the city, a young girl is carried away by the beast; in response, her family members do everything in their power to rescue her from its clutches. A high-concept disaster film and then some, The Host took inspiration from a real incident from 2000, in which a Korean mortician was ordered by the U.S. military to illegally dump formaldehyde, and gives ample space to shrewdly satirize national and foreign bodies in crisis—from inept and uncaring governments to self-righteous protesters. An NYFF44 selection.

Memories of Murder / Salinui chueok
Bong Joon Ho, South Korea, 2003, 132m
Korean with English subtitles
Bong’s masterful, gonzo comic take on the police procedural won him worldwide acclaim and helped make the Korean New Wave a full-fledged international force. Set against the political turbulence of the 1980s, Memories of Murder traces the friction that develops between a pair of detectives—one a small-town investigator in over his head, the other a young hotshot from Seoul—as they try to catch a serial killer who is murdering women on rainy nights. But as each lead turns up a dead end, their investigation seems to wind only towards nihilistic despair. Based on the true story of South Korea’s first serial killer, this singular policier eschews crime thriller conventions in favor of a haunting, richly human exploration of failure and existential futility.

Mother / Maedo
Bong Joon Ho, South Korea, 2009, 129m
Korean with English subtitles
After he propelled the creature feature to new heights with The Host, Bong returned to small-town intrigue with this searing melodrama that also functions as a female-fronted whodunit. Convinced that her son has been wrongly accused of a young girl’s murder, a widow throws herself body and soul into proving his innocence. As damning a critique on class and corruption as Memories of Murder, Mother also stands out in Bong’s filmography as a laser-focused character study—veteran actress Kim Hye-ja gives perhaps the performance of her career—that’s as heart-rending, thrilling, uncomfortably funny, and thoroughly unpredictable as anything he’s ever made. An NYFF47 selection.

Okja
Bong Joon Ho, South Korea, 2017, 118m
English, Korean, and Spanish with English subtitles
For ten idyllic years in her home in the mountains of South Korea, young Mija (An Seo Hyun) has been caretaker and constant companion to a massive, genetically engineered, but sweet-souled animal named Okja. However, the image-obsessed and self-promoting CEO (Tilda Swinton) of the multinational conglomerate that created Okja has big plans to capture her and bring her to New York. The single-minded Mija sets out to rescue her dearest friend, crossing paths with ruthless capitalists and animal-rights activists, all of them battling to control the fate of Okja. Deftly blending humor, action, and tearful drama, Bong transforms the gentlest of premises—the bond between man and animal—into a distinct and layered vision of the world that speaks to what makes us human.

GISAENGCHUNG (Parasite) directed by BONG Joon-Ho
GISAENGCHUNG (Parasite) directed by BONG Joon-Ho

Parasite
Bong Joon Ho, South Korea, 2019, 132m
Korean with English subtitles
In Bong’s exhilarating film, a threadbare family of four struggling to make ends meet gradually hatches a scheme to work for, and as a result infiltrate, the wealthy household of an entrepreneur, his seemingly frivolous wife, and their troubled kids. How they go about doing this—and how their best-laid plans spiral out to destruction and madness—constitutes one of the wildest, scariest, and most unexpectedly affecting movies in years, a portrayal of contemporary class resentment that deservedly won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or. As with all of this South Korean filmmaker’s best works, Parasite is both rollicking and ruminative in its depiction of the extremes to which human beings push themselves in a world of unending, unbridgeable economic inequality. An NYFF57 selection.

Snowpiercer
Bong Joon Ho, South Korea/USA, 2013, 125m
English, Korean, French, Japanese, Czech, and German with English subtitles
In the midst of a second Ice Age, the remaining inhabitants of Earth are packed together aboard the Snowpiercer, a supertrain that will continuously circle the globe until the planet is again habitable. No utopian society, however, the train is separated into classes, with the “unwashed masses” relegated to the intolerable caboose while the one-percenters bask in luxury. In response, reluctant hero Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a rebellious charge to the ship’s engine room. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Bong’s international production also stars Song Kang Ho, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, and Octavia Spencer.

Shorts Program: 1994-2008
This program combines a selection of shorts Bong made from 1994 to 2008, including work produced as a student of the Korean Academy of Film Arts as well as films he made for the 2004 Jeonju Cinema Project and the cinematic triptych Tokyo!

CARTE BLANCHE: BONG JOON HO SELECTS

Cure
Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 1997, 35mm, 112m
Japanese with English subtitles
With this unnerving work of slow-burn horror, Japanese auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa took the now-familiar premise of the serial killer movie and spun it into a reflection on obsession and self control. A detective (Koji Yakusho) trailing a series of murders in Tokyo finds that a different person has confessed to each gruesome killing—an X has been cut into the throats of the victims. Yet none of them can explain their motives. Kurosawa eschews shock effects for something more hypnotic, keeping his audience at a distance, teasing out tension through unsettlingly calm atmosphere and impeccable sound design.

Deliverance
John Boorman, USA, 1972, 35mm, 109m
In John Boorman’s infamous back-country thriller, starring Jon Voight and a breakout Burt Reynolds, four city boys make the foolhardy decision to canoe down a treacherous Georgia river before it’s dammed and turned into a lake. This white-knuckle interpretation of James Dickey’s classic novel is remembered not only for its provocations (and “Dueling Banjos” musical sequence) but also its expert pacing and chilling examination of the disappearing American wilderness.

Intentions of Murder / Akai satsui
Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1964, 35mm, 150m
Japanese with English subtitles
After being assaulted by a burglar, housewife Sadako finds herself deeply conflicted in Shohei Imamura’s psychologically arresting and sensuously shot portrait of fear and desire. In Masumi Harukawa’s earthy performance, Sadako, surrounded by questionable models of masculinity, vacillates between responding to her attacker’s advances and entertaining thoughts of murder. Imamura’s film sticks with its fascinating protagonist instead of pathologizing her, and rolls out flashbacks, voiceover musings, and the director’s signature close-ups of human bodies grappling in struggle or lust. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.

Io Island / Iodo
Kim Ki-young, South Korea, 1977, 110m
Korean with English subtitles
Io Island is a bizarre murder mystery from one of Korean cinema’s unquestionable masters, Kim Ki-young (The Housemaid). Suspected and acquitted of killing a native son of the matriarch-led Io Island, a businessman travels there in hopes of uncovering the truth behind the man’s disappearance and the perplexing allure of Io’s shamanistic inhabitants. Kim’s mid-career film is a fascinating interrogation of Korean identity in the 1970s and a hypnotic take on the missing-person story, not least in its complex structure and rendering of time.

Seconds
John Frankenehimer, USA, 1966, 106m
A depressed middle-aged banker agrees to a procedure that will fake his death and give him a completely new look and identity—at a dangerous price. John Frankenheimer’s final entry in his “Paranoia Trilogy” (following TheManchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May) features a remarkable central performance by Rock Hudson, a hallucinatory opening credits sequence from Saul Bass, a score by Jerry Goldsmith, and creeping monochromatic cinematography by James Wong Howe. An of-the-moment political thriller, Seconds is also a sci-fi nightmare about the primordial concerns of eternal youth and a bleak reappraisal of the American Dream.

The Thing
John Carpenter, USA, 1982, 35mm, 109m
John Carpenter’s chilling (and sometimes hilarious) remake of the 1951 classic showcases some of the greatest practical effects of the ’80s. Led by Kurt Russell in top form, the staff of an Antarctic research outpost battles a shape-shifting alien lifeform in an atmosphere of escalating paranoia. Few directors can devise atmosphere as distinctly as Carpenter, who also contributed ideas to Ennio Morricone’s synth score, and whose use of minimal, claustrophobic spaces prove how location itself can become its own character.

The Wages of Fear / Le salaire de la peur
Henri-Georges Clouzot, France/Italy, 147m

French, English, German, Italian and Russian with English subtitles
In Henri-Georges Clouzot’s adaptation of the Georges Arnaud novel, four desperate men take on a seemingly doomed mission when they agree to transport trucks full of highly explosive nitroglycerin through a South American mountain route. Featuring an international quartet of acting legends including Yves Montand, The Wages of Fear is one of the greatest thrillers ever made—a raw, keyed-up cinematic excursion that puts Clouzot’s effortless command of mood and suspense on full display.

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