Archive for Bong Joon-Ho


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on February 18, 2020 by dcairns

Bong Joon Ho’s first feature, BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, which flopped, arguably has more in common with his superhit PARASITE than any of the films in between, though he’s certainly an ideal auteur in terms of both stylistic and thematic consistency. This one is about class, too.

It’s kind of a “network narrative,” but the discreet plot threads turn out to be woven into a tight plot.

There’s a graduate who ought to have become a professor but hasn’t greased the right palm. Also his pregnant wife bullies him and he’s driven crazy by barking dogs in his neighbourhood, leading to a covert campaign of canicide.

There’s an office girl who wants to be a media hero.

Actually, those are the main strands, really. They seem separate, but they keep brushing together without quite intertwining. But there really are two protagonists, though one is also the villain, or at least an antihero. Both are trying to get somewhere and using the wrong methods, but the film’s great grace note is to reward the villain, ignore the heroine, but allow her to be happy and him not. It’s now sort of a familiar Bong trope, giving with one hand and taking away with several others, allowing for an ending which seems hopeful — isn’t depressing — but the uplift crumbles when you hold it to the light. Think about the hero’s masterplan at the end of PARASITE…

I imagine this one didn’t do well since it shows quite a lot of bad stuff happening to cute dogs, to the extent that the Korean equivalent of the Humane Association seal of approval appears right at the start. If not for that, we might not have been able to stomach it, and one still finds oneself wondering HOW they achieved, for instance, the suspension of a Peke by its collar and leash, without at least distressing the poor pooch. And then, Bong also violates Hitchcock’s dictum about not threatening the audience with a bad thing, then allowing it to happen. He doesn’t let us off the hook, which might be his own dictum, actually.

Amazing bit where, during her heroic act, a whole tribe of doppelgangers appears, lining the rooftops, cheering our heroine on. They’re a fantasy, of course. Sort of her fantasy, but not quite. They’re not presented as her POV, she doesn’t notice them, and we can’t quite imagine her taking the time to dream them up during her life-and-death struggle. So it’s as if they’re the film’s fantasy on her behalf, or something.

The film also contains a ghost story, recounted by a pretty unreliable narrator, which crashes into the main narrative at the very end, triggering a delightful ah-hah! and a bone-chilling uh-oh at the same instant. Bong’s good at those, isn’t he?

Tower of Terror

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2020 by dcairns

Three recent things we saw — JOJO RABBIT, PARASITE, THE LIGHTHOUSE.

The first two are about people hiding in your house. The third isn’t. Unless they were very well hidden.

JOJO is very well done — on its own terms, close to perfect. I’m not sure if I accept those terms or not, though. But the kids are really good, aren’t they? The round kind who can’t do a German accent, he’s FANTASTIC. And Johanssen is great.

The most noticeable weak point storywise is Jojo suddenly turning detective and locating a secret panel just because he heard a noise. It’s weird they couldn’t devote more attention to that nailing the logic of that key moment.

It’s not a film that worries about setting things up in advance — apart from the shoes and shoelaces business which they make sure to hit hard and often, and then they certainly reap the dramatic rewards. It’s surprising that they wouldn’t plant a single clue before the big reveal of the hider in the house.

I can’t quite decide if the film is a problematically inadequate response to its subject, the way that most of us seem to feel LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL was. I haven’t put my finger on the one thing that would clinch that. In the Benigni film, it’s the idea of a father being able to pretend to his son that a concentration camp is a holiday camp. To suggest that’s possible requires us to adopt the view that life in Belsen wasn’t that bad, that the awfulness was deniable. I can’t get on with the idea of THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS either. Any child is going to know when something that terrible is facing them.

But, as I say, I don’t have a clear sense of where Waititi’s film may have put a foot wrong. Although I wasn’t as moved as I expected or as amused as I expected, and I did feel a tension that the film at any moment might do something unforgivable. But, for me, it just made it to the far end of its tightrope.

PARASITE really is close to perfect, and took almost equal risks, and seemed to me to achieve more. It was genuinely thought-provoking. It was beautifully worked out — the end of the first movement of the story, as the family of impostors infiltrates the house, was a crux, because Bong needed to do something new, unsurprising, and equally brilliant, to carry the film into its second act, and it really looked as if he hadn’t prepared anything.

He had, though.

THE LIGHTHOUSE is just extraordinary. Not a lot going on with the story, perhaps, though it makes ambiguity interesting again. There is gaslighting, which makes it somewhat topical.

Mainly, though, it’s the way each shot, undergirded by the sound design, is not only staggeringly beautiful but POWERFUL in a way that always seems exactly right. We were impressed by THE WITCH, though I’d resisted seeing it for a while because I’m broadly pro-witch and I didn’t like the idea of the film taking a witchfinder’s attitude. It doesn’t exactly do that, though — again, ambiguity is everywhere.

Eggers is a major talent. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

Cloak & Dagger, Sight & Sound

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on February 8, 2020 by dcairns

I make two appearances in the new Sight & Sound, with a favourable review of Luke Aspell’s clever monograph on Cronenberg’s SHIVERS, and a favourable review from Robert Hanks of my video essay extra on Masters of Cinema’s double-format CLOAK AND DAGGER (which you can glimpse at the 40 second mark, above).

This edition is guest-edited by Bong Joon Ho, whose PARASITE is the bee’s knees. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

I started counting the number of things I’m committed to writing at present, but I ran out of fingers, then toes, then brain cells. More on this soon.