Monsters & Murderers: The Films of Bong Joon-ho
February 25-March 1 at BAM
BAM's Bong Joon-ho recap in anticipation of his new film, Mother, opens tonight with Memories of Murder (2003), an early standard-bearer during Korean cinema's next-big-thing limelight last decade. Perhaps still overrated from that heyday, Bong's serial-killer police procedural nonetheless admirably executes the subgenre's now-familiar drift through investigative incompetence and intimations of era-specific ills. A bumpkin cop's violent interrogation methods befit the 1980s pre-democracy setting, and the film, gleamingly shot in rural locations, also keeps broad humor within sight at most times.
After a Friday sneak preview of Mother (Bong's most ambiguously toned work yet) comes Saturday night aqua fever, about which L Magazine critic me recently wrote:
"GIANT KILLER FISH STALKS SEOUL! FAMILY, GOVERNMENT DYSFUNCTIONAL. PATHOS, SLAPSTICK, HORROR INTERMINGLED. After an odd little black comedy and a lauded grim policier, Bong Joon-ho made Korea's highest-grossing movie of all time—an astonishing mix of jostling family tragicomedy, nuanced creature-feature CGI, and robust satire, among other things. Beyond the unlikely orchestration of these elements and the change-up pacing, it's also just gorgeously conceived filmmaking, with Bong making full galloping use of the varied canvases that monster-on-the-loose and family-bickering scenes allow. Perfect for the big screen, and with an abiding affection for ornery oddballs and slimeball leviathans alike."Sunday's cul-de-sac of grad-student humiliation, debut feature Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), is a strange comedy that is fun to sit with, head cocked, but the Bong long weekend's only mini-rediscovery lies in Monday's shorts program. Entirely "shot" with Seoul surveillance cameras (if the credits, which thank the police, are to be believed), Influenza tracks the dissolution of a ridiculous salesman into street-scrabbling tramp and thief preying upon the weak. Each black-and-white view is a single candid-camera chapter, but the punchline may or not come, or can be equally disturbing and amusing (like an ATM robbery that ends in barricaded bedlam). Bong's staging is remarkably resourceful, elegant, and satisfyingly laced with surprises (though the concept of course precedes him). Two other shorts—modern WTF parable Sink and Rise, and Bong's entry in the Tokyo! omnibus—show as well (though where's Incoherence?). But Influenza, Bong's panel in the 2004 Jeonju Digital Project, makes the shorts program more than just a completist's affair.