``

Film Series / Events

Search All Film Series (1999-present)
Browse All Film Series

February 28 - March 6

Bong Joon-ho: The Pleasures and Terrors of Genre

The gripping films of Korean enfant terrible Bong Joon-ho (b. 1969) offer engaging and intense reinventions of popular genres that are animated by a flair for dramatically cinematic storytelling and sharp yet subtle commentary on the historical and political complexities of present-day Korean society. Bong’s interest in filmmaking evolved from his love of American cinema, in particular his admiration for those directors, from John Frankenheimer to David Lynch, who bend genre convention to their own particular ends. Equally important to Bong’s cinema, however, was his later discovery of two master Japanese filmmakers who exerted a profound influence upon his work - Shohei Imamura and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, two very different artists whose meticulously constructed narrative films are nevertheless similarly invested in oblique, often beautifully cryptic, commentaries upon contemporary society.

Bong’s singular talent lies in his ability to interweave multiple narrative strands, a wide range of memorable characters, and a dramatic spectrum of moods, from elegiac to terrifying to charming. Bong’s dark crime stories offer him the broadest range to fully sound the depths of his open-ended characters - and, by extension, the Korean nation. Ultimately, his work presents a cynical view of human nature, with the bonds of family, community and friendship constantly broken by cruelty, apathy and hypocrisy. Bong’s seemingly straightforward narratives are shadowed by strange enigmas, not so much over what is happening but in what the events ultimately mean, and whether his characters should be understood as heroic, tragic, grotesque or comic, an unsettling ambiguity that lends Bong’s films their haunting emotional depths.

Read the Boston Phoenix review of the series here and the Boston Globe review here.

This program is co-presented with the Korea Institute, Harvard University. Funding is generously provided by the Academy of Korean Studies, Korea. Special thanks: Matt Cowal, Magnolia Pictures; Heejeon Kim, CJ Entertainment; Susan Laurence, Dima Mironenko, Korea Institute.


Special Event Tickets $12
Sunday February 28 at 7pm

Mother (Maedo)

Directed by Bong Joon-ho, Appearing in Person
With Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Ku
South Korea 2009, 35mm, color, 129 min. Korean with English subtitles

Bong Joon-ho’s latest film is at once a murder mystery, a portrait of a small Korean town and, above all, a meditation on the dark complexity of the ambivalent bonds binding parents and children. Kim Hye-ja brings a riveting, desperate energy to her portrayal of the title character, a woman trying to prove that her son has been coerced into confessing to a murder he did not commit. As her investigation continues and expands, it unearths ever-darker layers in the community and in the relationship between mother and son. Bong’s talent for conjuring a sense of menace from landscape, color and framing suggests a rich hybrid of Hitchcock’s crisp storyboarded world and Imamura’s ribald animism. Kim’s character ultimately reveals her Imamuran ancestry - earthy, potentially violent, and seemingly indomitable.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Special Event Tickets $12
Monday March 1 at 7pm

Memories of Murder (Sarineui chueok)

Directed by Bong Joon-ho, Appearing in Person
With Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung
South Korea 2003, 35mm, color, 127 min. Korean with English subtitles

Like Mother, Memories of Murder is built around a homicide investigation in a small Korean town, but here the similarities end. While Mother remains deliberately and intensely intimate, Memories of Murder offers an epic look back at Korean society in the Cold War 1980s, as the economic boom began to take form, and before judicial reform and the arrival of new technologies transformed the nation culturally and politically. Based on the first reported case of serial killing in South Korea, the film novelistically details the wake of the crimes as their impact spreads to affect detectives, victims, survivors and suspects alike. As the chilling epilogue makes clear, this impact lasts for decades. A devastatingly effective thriller, Memories of Murder revealed Bong as a master of politically astute suspense cinema.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday March 6 at 7pm

The Host (Gwoemul)

Directed by Bong Joon-ho.
With Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong
South Korea 2006, 35mm, color, 120 min. Korean with English subtitles

Years after a U.S. Army laboratory secretly dumped toxic chemicals into the Han River, a carnivorous mutant emerges to wreak havoc on Seoul. The resulting carnage reveals Bong’s evident joy in cinematic storytelling to be as omnivorous as the film’s monster, with The Host unfurling suspense, slapstick, furious action sequences, biting social satire and geopolitical commentary, dark humor and, above all, a love of genre convention and its subversion. Yet by focusing the story on one family’s attempt to survive, Bong clearly emphasizes human behavior and emotion rather than offering a more abstract cautionary tale of a disinformation spreading government, even as the monster itself suggests an allegorical figure of consumerism run amok.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday March 6 at 9:30pm

Barking Dogs Never Bite (Flandersui gae)

Directed by Bong Joon-ho.
With Lee Sung-jae, Bae Doo-na
South Korea 2003, 35mm, color, 106 min. Korean with English subtitles

Bong’s feature debut offers a stinging critique of the economic divide between the haves and have-nots in an offbeat story about an aspiring unemployed professor, his pregnant yuppie wife and a young woman working in the office of his apartment complex, who has no particular ambitions or, seemingly, much of a future. A yapping dog in the building sets off the twisted chain of events that ultimately draws them together in a pitch-black comedy that pairs its bleak view of human nature with a score of jazz and cool electronica. Contemporary Seoul is depicted as a media-crazed city saturated with corruption at the higher levels, a society given over to the venal and the banal.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top
Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700