Oct 30, 2013 3:05PM

Joon-Ho Bong On Friends And Frenemies in Monster Films

From Oyster #103: The Hang Out In Real Life Issue.

Director Joon-Ho Bong's latest film, Snowpiercer (starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton), revolves around a post-apocalytic, constantly-moving train that's full of humanity's last remaining survivors and is heavily divided along class lines. Sounds epic — all of his films are. His previous film, The Host, was about a squid-like monster that lives in Seoul's Han River and abducts a small girl, whose family resolve to rescue her. Needless to say, the Korean filmaker loves monster movies — films where the characters are forced to confront a darker power, whether a monster, a human enemy or themselves. For Oyster #103: The Hang Out In Real Life Issue, Joon-Ho Bong tells us about his facination with 'crime and creature' films and what they tell us about human nature.

I don’t feel particularly well-adjusted to society. I’m afraid of it. When you’re afraid of something, you’re inclined to be more observant of that thing and express your feelings towards it in a more powerful way. For example, if you were afraid of women you would be inclined to express that. If you were afraid of monsters, then you would be inclined to express more about that. Since I have this fear of society, I’m interested in expressing that in my work. 

There are people who are well-adjusted to society, and then there are people who are on the outer edge of society and kind of operate outside of the ‘well-adjusted people’ zone. I’m interested in cases where those two kinds of people meet and interact. I love to imagine what kinds of things happen when those two groups of people meet.

If I had to fit my films under an umbrella genre, I would say they are ‘crime and creature’ films. It’s hard for me to define my films like that, though, because I’m always evading genre definitions. In these films, the camaraderie between the protagonists is a vital ingredient. The intricacies of the intimate relationships between characters are important. Their misunderstandings often lead to fun situations. I like to express certain confusions and misunderstandings between characters.

I myself am like that. Other people will misunderstand me and, in turn, I don’t understand other people. Human relationships are very difficult for me. They’re so hard! For example, actors are very emotional. They have a lot of envy and they want to be loved. If I say that a performance is really good to one actor, another will think, “Their performance was better than mine!” That can be frustrating. 


For me the best monster movie is The Thing by John Carpenter. It’s a really great movie with great special effects. In The Thing, the central characters don’t necessarily bond as the story goes on. Rather, they become increasingly suspicious of one other and their relationships fall apart, which creates the suspense and the tension that makes the film so exciting.

You know, relationships in monster movies are more important than the monsters themselves. For instance, at the end of The Thing only two people are left, and those two people do not trust each other and cannot necessarily rely on each other. Their relationship ends up being stronger than the creature. 

In Snowpiercer, the relationship between characters is very important. Although it is a sci-fi-meets-action movie, even the action comes from the relationships between and the emotions of the characters. Chris Evans plays the protagonist, whose intentions are sometimes hidden from and misunderstood by other characters. In turn, he is suspicious of the other characters and he misunderstands them. That’s what makes the storyline so compelling to me. 

Essentially I agree with Kurt Vonnegut’s quote, “If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new way, scratch it out,” because whether it’s an hour-and-a-half movie or a two-hour movie, it can seem long to the audience, but for a storyteller it’s actually not very long at all. Whether it’s a character or situation, repeating something needlessly should be avoided at all costs. You always need to show a new step forward for the story or the character — you must show a new dimension, or provide new information.

Joon-Ho Bong’s Five Favourite Sci-Fi Films (in no particular order):

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979)

Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1983)

Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) 

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) 

Read Joon-Ho Bong's 'On the Importance of Friends and Frenemies in Monster Films' in Oyster #103 — out now.


Words: Joon-Ho Bong
Introduction: Jerico Mandybur