An Interview with Bong Joon Ho of Memories of Murder

Original link is here

Some excerpts


With his second feature, Memories of Murder (2003), Bong Joon-ho established himself as a major figure in contemporary Korean cinema. A stark, emotionally uncompromising thriller depicting the moral lines crossed by Korean police detectives in hunting a serial killer, the film was hailed both domestically and internationally as a potent infusion of Asian social realism into the conventions of the well-worn crime movie narrative. However, even Bong’s admirers scratched their heads at the announcement of his next feature, a big-budget production about a monster lurking in a river running through Seoul, who preys on its citizens.


Cineaste: Why did you put so much political subtext into this film? Do Korean audiences like that?

Bong Joon-ho: It’s fun for me to bury my political comments here and there in a film, but this is also part of the tradition of the monster or sci-fi genre. It was a double blessing for me to convey some political commentary in the film and have it work within a genre. For instance, the opening scene, when the two scientists are pouring chemicals into the Han River refers to an actual event that took place six years ago. But at the same time it’s a very typical monster movie opening. So for me it was great to hit both at the same time. It’s not like I’m putting raw social commentary in the film. It is integrated into the entertainment value of the film.



Cineaste: What is behind your fascination with ‘lovable losers’ in your films?

Bong: It’s like an obsession with me. I like putting these characters in impossible situations that they can’t deal with. That’s what makes powerful drama. When you have a superhero going on a mission, the outcome is too predictable. If you’ve seen my films, whether it’s these losers going against a serial killer or against a creature, it’s the same structure. I think through those characters I can differentiate myself from Hollywood genres. Korean audiences are very used to watching a Hollywood superhero. In Korean films they want someone they can relate to.



Cineaste: Your films are very attentive to nuances of human behavior and social morality, elements that one doesn’t readily associate with contemporary action movies that rely heavily on special effects. How did you preserve a sense of genuine regard for humanity through the film, especially given the strain of big-budget, special-effects filmmaking?

Bong: It wasn’t my wish to make a big-budget spectacle. My intention to show a creature coming out of the Han River turned out to require a big budget. I really believe it’s difficult to make a big-budget film, especially within the Korean studio system. It’s not something I want to do. In Hollywood, it’s very structured. You have several producers, a line producer, an executive producer, second unit, third unit, etc. But in Korea it’s the director who does all that. So as the scale gets better, it gets harder mentally and physically.

It’s easy to lose your sense of humanity making any film, not just monster films. Even with Memories of Murder, it could have turned into a cold, barren thriller, but with the detective character played by Song Kang-ho you have this overflow of humanity. With The Host, what kept this film human was the quality of the characters and the acting. In monster films you typically have a scientific reason for why the monster came to be and what their weaknesses are. Most of the story focuses on the monster. But in this film the monster comes out right at the beginning and then it’s mainly about the family, what each character is about, the details of their stories. I think that’s why the film retains a human aspect. If you want to be really picky about it, I don’t think you can say The Host is a monster movie. It’s more of a kidnapping movie. The kidnapper just happens to be a creature. It’s all about the family coming together and what they overcome.


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