Interviews · News

Joon-ho Bong Talks ‘Tokyo!’, ‘Mother’ And ‘Transperceneige’

Director Joon-ho Bong only has three feature films to his name since his debut in 2000, but he’s considered my many to be one of South Korea’s best directors. We caught up with the busy director via email and asked questions to which he graciously responded.
By  · Published on March 27th, 2009

Director Joon-ho Bong only has three feature films to his name since his debut in 2000, but he’s considered my many to be one of South Korea’s best directors.  His films include the darkly comedic Barking Dogs Never Bite, the excellent procedural Memories of Murder, and The Host, about a monster attack on Seoul brought down to the level of one family’s search for their youngest member.  Bong’s currently best known for The Host, but with a new film in theaters and a couple more in various stages of production that may soon be changing.

In theaters now is a new anthology film called Tokyo!which features three short and wildly varied films about the title city.  Bong contributed the closing segment, “Shaking Tokyo”, about an agoraphobe who finds love during a major earthquake.  He has two films in the pipeline as well.  First up will be Mother, a film about a man wrongfully accused of a terrible crime and the efforts his mother puts forth to prove his innocence.  After that relatively small film Bong plans to tackle his biggest project to date with Transperceneige.  The movie is an international production based on a French science fiction graphic novel that takes place almost exclusively on a speeding train.

Bong is currently doing press for Tokyo! while finishing production on Mother.  We caught up with the busy director via email and asked questions to which he graciously responded.

FSR:  Tell us how Tokyo! came about, particularly your involvement.  And are there any other cities that could tempt you into doing another short film?

JOON-HO BONG:  COMMES DES CINEMA approached me with the movie idea of viewing Tokyo as an ‘omnibus.’ Tokyo was the focal point for the film and the three directors came about around this idea. We all worked independently and there was no crossing amongst us. At Cannes we saw each other’s film for the first time. There are many enticing cities but Attenborough, Chicago, Hong Kong are my personal favorite ones.

Shaking Tokyo’ highlights your ability to tell a story visually with minimum dialogue (ex. set design, actors’ expressions, the tattooed buttons on the delivery girl’s arms and leg).  Do you prefer images to words when telling a story?

Absolutely. There are images I want to shoot…I think I make films for the vividness of the filmic image itself. But at times I enjoy dialogues that pour like the waterfalls. There is always such a scene in all my films. As in THE HOST and the upcoming MOTHER. I think TOKYO was the only exception. I like the odd excitement that comes from characters spitting long dialogues in Martin Scorsese’s films.

I love the idea of “dialogues that pour like the waterfalls” and if this were an actual live interview I’d compliment you on creating a very vivid image to describe the times you don’t use vivid imagery.  Moving on… How is production on Mother coming?  You’re quoted elsewhere as saying you want it to be “the saddest yet most beautiful crime drama ever”, something I think you’ve already accomplished with Memories of Murder.  Are you not interested in making a happy crime thriller?

I thought of the storyline for Mother since 2004, before The Host came to theaters. Preproduction began after working in Tokyo in 2007. Now we’vefinished shooting and are working in post. Of course it’s a crime genre. But storyline-wise, it’s about a mother and son. I wanted to express the explosivemadness of a mother who’s trying to save her wrongly accused son. If the results are good with Mother, I want to try making a happy crime thriller. (laughs)

I think you’re toying with me about making a happy crime thriller Bong.  Your laughter gave it away.  If you do move forward with one however I’d appreciate some kind of onscreen credit.  Perhaps a cameo as a Caucasian corpse.  Moving on again… Any news on Transperceneige?  Screenplay finished?  Release date still expected to be 2011?  The film is expected to feature an international cast, so was your experience on Tokyo! good practice for filming in a language other than Korean?

Transperceneige will be worked on once Mother opens in theaters. I will be writing the script for it this summer. I would like to start pre production by 2010. As you noted the film is a multiple-language film. Working with Japanese actors in Shaking Tokyo was fun. I learned that even when you make a film in a foreign language, the emotions are the same. You can still direct in this realm. Even in The Host I worked with foreign actors – Scott Wilson, Paul Lazar. I’m not worried any more about working in a foreign language (but of course you need a good translator. Laughs)

Speaking of laughter, any thoughts on the various and upcoming sequels, prequels, remakes of The Host?

In Korea they are currently preparing to make The Host 2. I have passed all the rights for the project to the production company and am not involved with it. I hope it does well and creates a good series. The American remake of the film is being created by Universal with Gore Verbinski as the producer. I believe there is a director and writing attached as well. I hope they come out with a good remake but I’m really not involved at all as I have no interest in remakes of sequels. I have too many new stories to tell.

Have you been tempted by Hollywood yet to come make an American debut?  And is it something you would consider?

After The Host, I did get a lot of offers and scripts for projects. No matter where I am working, I cannot create without 100% creative control and final cut on the film. IF there is such a guarantee, I can work anywhere. As I know that Hollywood does not work that way I don’t have any solid plans to work there at this time. Transperceneige will be a multi-language, international co-production but ultimately a Korean film.

Good for you Bong.  You’ve brought tears that pour like waterfalls to my eyes, but they’re waterfalls of joy and relief.  Finally, what do you think of Korea’s recent cinema scene?  Any standout directors that you see?

Commercially it’s a difficult time. But creative individuals are still keeping up the good fight and there are always new and young talents that spur out. As of late I was intrigued by the film, Rough Cut. It was by a new director and I want to recommend it. It was produced by Kim Ki-Duk.

Tokyo! is currently in limited theatrical release, and I highly recommend it if it’s playing near you. Read my review here. There is currently no set release date for Mother, although it is expected to debut at Cannes this year. Special thanks to Joon-ho Bong for taking the time to respond to my questions, Lesley from Special Ops for facilitating the process, and Twitch (via for the new Mother poster.

Related Topics:

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.