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The Films of Joon-ho Bong

Barking Dogs Never Bite

Memories of Murder

The Host

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Snowpiercer (July 18/14)

Adapted from a French comic book, Snowpiercer unfolds in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity's sole survivors are housed aboard a lengthy train that's been divided into classes - with the movie's narrative kicked into motion after the impoverished passengers, led by Chris Evans' Curtis, decide to stage a revolution. It's a fairly absurd premise that's initially employed to disappointing and underwhelming effect by filmmaker Joon-ho Bong, as the director, making his English-language debut here, infuses the early part of Snowpiercer with a curiously (and distractingly) broad sensibility that's reflected most keenly in its performances - with Tilda Swinton's larger-than-life, go-for-broke turn as a toothy fascist certainly ranking head and shoulders above her able castmates. (It's worth noting, however, that Swinton's work becomes more and more engrossing as time progresses.) The movie's static atmosphere persists until the aforementioned impoverished passengers begin making their way through the train, with Snowpiercer's midsection subsequently boasting a whole handful of absolutely enthralling images and sequences. (There is, for example, a thoroughly captivating interlude in which the rebels encounter a pregnant, gun-toting schoolteacher.) It doesn't hurt that Bong, along with production designer Ondrej Nekvasil, offers up a series of breathtaking sets as the characters move to the front of the train, and it's clear, too, that such moments are heightened by the dwindling roster of protagonists (ie it becomes easier to root for the heroes as their numbers grow smaller and smaller). The absolutely watchable vibe comes to an almost dead stop as the movie enters its anti-climactic third act, as scripters Bong and Kelly Masterson close out the proceedings with an overly talky stretch that's rife with exposition and explanations (ie it's awfully reminiscent of that now-notorious Architect scene from The Matrix Reloaded). The end result is an uneven, overlong thriller that nevertheless sets itself apart from its summer-movie brethren, with Snowpiercer's faults ultimately outweighed by its raft of positive attributes and stellar, action-fueled set pieces.

out of

Okja (July 8/17)

A fairly colossal disappointment and misfire from Joon-ho Bong, Okja details the chaos that ensues after the title character, a genetically-enhanced superpig, is taken away from its owner (An Seo Hyun's Mija) and sent on a perilous journey into the big city. It's clear that Okja fares best in its deliberately-paced yet engrossing opening hour, with the film's lackadaisical first act, which revolves around the gentle relationship between Mija and Okja, setting a pleasant tone that's heightened by the palpable chemistry between the two protagonists. At the same time, however, Bong, along with coscreenwriter Jon Ronson, offers up a series of larger-than-life supporting characters that slowly-but-surely wear out their welcome, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton chewing unreasonable amounts of scenery as, respectively, a sinister television personality and the CEO of the company that owns Okja. Such missteps are, at the outset, relatively easy to overlook, though, given that Bong also delivers a series of spectacular set-pieces, with, especially, an absolutely jaw-dropping action sequence involving Okja and several animal-rights activists standing as an obvious highlight within the proceedings. It's only as Okja progresses into its meandering and progressively mean-spirited second half that one's interest takes a serious nosedive, as Bong abandons any pretense of subtlety by heavily stressing the inherent inhumanity of contemporary slaughterhouses - with the aggressively didactic vibe, coupled with a head-scratching decision to emphasize uniformly over-the-top periphery figures, paving the way for a shockingly unwatchable third act. It's ultimately difficult to recall a film that so completely squanders the potential of an engaging, entertaining opening stretch, and one wonders just what Bong was thinking when he originally conceived of this entirely misbegotten storyline.

out of

© David Nusair