South Korean cinema auteur Bong Joon-ho has been dazzling audiences since the early aughts with his unique blend of horror, suspense, and science fiction. His breakthrough 2003 film, Memories of Murder, focused on a serial killer, achieved critical acclaim, launching him into a career as an internationally renowned film director.
Memories of Murder was his second feature film, and since then, Bong Joon-ho has been at the helm of some of the most interesting and exceptional movies of the 21st century. His 2019 release, Parasite, won the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, compelling film lovers around the world to dig into his impressive filmography. Rotten Tomatoes finds nothing putrid about Bong Joon-ho's work. His worst rating, for the 2008 anthology film Tokyo!, is 76%. His best, for Parasite, is a coveted 99%. Here's a rundown of all Bong Joon-ho's films, ranked by their rating on Rotten Tomatoes (barring Barking Dogs Never Bite and his segment for Digital Short Films By Three Filmmakers 2004, which do not yet have a critical ranking on the site).
8 Toyko! (2008): 76%
Bong Joon-ho directed the last segment of this anthology film, entitled "Sharing Toyko." This short follows the trials and tribulations of a shut-in who has not left his Tokyo apartment in a decade. Thanks to delivery services, Teruyuki can get anything he needs with a simple phone call.
An earthquake strikes at the same moment a young woman arrives with his pizza order, and when she collapses in his apartment, Teruyuki falls in love. After she leaves, he can't stop thinking about her, so he decides to leave his bubble and venture through the streets of Toyko in search of her.
7 Sea Fog (2015): 77%
This dramatic film about a struggling Korean fisherman who decides to smuggle immigrants from China on his boat for extra money was co-written and produced by Bong Joon-ho. Adapted from a stage play, Sea Fog was praised as a taut, suspenseful thriller with social relevancy.
Events in the movie escalate when the fisherman's boat is at sea during a storm, and an intense sea fog dominates much of the visual field.
6 Okja (2017): 86%
Bong Joon-ho's unique approach to science fiction comes to life in Okja. Fascinated by humankind's manipulation of nature for its own ends, and the inevitable fall-out that arises from such tampering, Joon-ho makes one of his most overtly political statements in this movie.
Written and directed by Joon-ho, Okja centers on a young Korean girl raising a genetically modified mega-pig. Including appearances by both English-language and Korean-speaking movie stars, ranging from Tilda Swinton to Jacke Gyllenhaal to Steven Yeun, this film was funded by Netflix. Instead of theatres, it debuted on the streaming service's platform.
5 Memories of Murder (2003): 90%
The film that put his career in motion, Memories of Murder is inspired by a real-life unsolved series of killings that rocked Bong Joon-ho's native South Korea. Written and directed by Joon-ho, the film takes place in 1986, when South Korea functioned as a military dictatorship, as two detectives attempt to solve the sexual assaults and murders of multiple women.
Joon-ho established his signature style with this film: tense, moving suspense matched with absurdly beautiful, meditative sequences. With Memories of Murder, he uses the police procedural trope to given insight into the downtrodden reality of life in South Korea during the mid-1980s. While gruesome, this film includes some stunning scenes of rural life in the country.
4 The Host (2007): 93%
Bong Joon-ho really wowed audiences with this science fiction/horror mash-up, the first of his films played in mainstream movie theatres all over the world. Influenced by problems with pollution in Seoul, South Korea's River Han, The Host is a classic creature-feature, made on an impressive two million dollar budget.
Propelled by special effects and scary sequences, The Host is also a film about family, specifically about how family bonds are challenged by environmental degradation burdening the planet. When the film's protagonist must save his teenage daughter from the mutant, amphibious creature wreaking havoc on Seoul, viewers get a sense of what Bong Joon-ho does right: making films that are equal parts personal and public, as well as equal parts emotionally moving and intellectually stimulating.
3 Snowpiercer (2014): 95%
The first English-language film made by Bong Joon-ho, Snowpiercer is an action-packed dystopian train film with an ensemble cast. Joon-ho's next science fiction film after The Host, Snowpiercer stars Chris Evans. Another film about climate disasters, Snowpiercer is the name of a perpetually-moving train carrying the only survivors of humankind after a climate engineering experiment goes horribly wrong.
Instead of curbing climate change, the experiments send Earth into another ice age. Evans plays a member of the train's lower class, and the film follows him as he participates in an uprising against the train's higher classes. Snowpiercer was both one of South Korea's most expensive and most successful films. Inspired by a French graphic novel, it was included in many "Best Of" lists for 2014.
2 Mother (2010): 96%
Perhaps Bong Joon-ho's most poetic film, Mother traces the codependent relationship between a South Korean woman and her only child, a 27-year-old son named Yoon Doon-jo. After Doon-jo is implicated in the murder of a young woman, his widowed mother attempts to figure out the truth.
Another murder mystery, Mother was acclaimed for its ability to mesh horror, humor, and beauty in one movie. The title character, played by Kim Hye-ja, displays equal parts strength and vulnerability as viewers watch her adult son manipulate and take advantage of her. Mother, written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, is yet another instance of the director shedding light on the universal plight of females by focusing on the intimate details of one woman's life.
1 Parasite (2019): 99%
Bong Joon-ho's latest, winner of the Cannes Film Festival Palme D'Or by unanimous vote, is another tense familial drama about a poor teenage boy employed by a wealthy family. Parasite follows the boy, Ki-woo, as he assumes his friend's role as a tutor for the Park family's daughter. Ki-woo and his family, the Kims, soon insert themselves in the lives of the Parks in perilous ways.
It's fitting that Bong Joon-ho's latest film is also his most revered on Rotten Tomatoes. With a 99% approval rating, the critical reviewers of the film are essentially unified in their approval. From visuals to dialogue, Parasite closes in on these families as they close in on each other with the kind of skill gained from decades of filmmaking. Here's hoping what Bong Joon-ho makes next will be just as artistically admirable.