Interview: Writer/Director Bong Joon-ho (MOTHER)

GATW Guest Writer

by: GATW Guest Writer
March 11th, 2010

Photo of Director Bong Joon-ho

There is something about seeing a film like THE HOST for the first time; it is rare that a monster movie would place so much emphasis on the characters, but the film is certainly better for it. Because lets be honest, it is not only rare, it is downright refreshing.  Bong Joon-ho is an exciting director in the sense that he is not afraid to tell his story without focusing on the action and the money shot.  The men and women in his films seem to come alive and not feel like a cardboard cutout.  And his latest film MOTHER is no exception.

I had the chance to talk to him about the relationships that co-exist in his films, as well as his thoughts on doing a sequel or a remake.  Now, you’ll notice that his answers all mention him as a third party, well that is because we had a lovely young woman translating.  It was quite the experience, and I’m happy to say that he was terrific to talk to.  Honestly, he gives me hope that there are directors and writers out there willing to take a chance and make something new and fresh… just like Bong Joon-ho’s latest, MOTHER, which opens in limited release this Friday.

Interview after the jump.

The Mother and son relationship here in MOTHER is dark but it is also quite touching, was it always part of the idea to make the son special needs?

Translator:  Yes, he always wanted to make the son a little bit mentally unstable.  And that was always part of the process for this story, also to make the mother more obsessive and possessive about him, and to sort of make the story more poignant.  And also, sort of the past element of it, with what happened when he was younger.

How as a filmmaker do you go about finding the balance between the moral and social issues and yet still make the film entertaining?

Those two things are not necessarily something that need to be balanced.  Also, just as the audiences are human, they go through everyday dilemma themselves.  And when they do watch the movie, its just for a moment or a couple hours in their life where they get to sort of see a fantasy of some sort.  But [he] also wants to make sure the story line is relatable and it has to tell a story about life and society, and have a strong reaction to it.

And also, for example, there could be a scene where two men are shooting at each other.  It could be this really grand scene and whatnot, but if the audience knows the story behind these two men and their different stories and the dilemmas in their lives, then that story itself gives the audience a chance to relate to them.

Well for me, what works in your films is the fact that you truly create characters.  Here, you spend a lot of time with the mother and her son.  Oftentimes in American cinema, you barely get a scene that explores the characters.  As an audience member, is that something that frustrates you?

[He] doesn’t want to generalize all films, because obviously they are all different.  Especially now, like the summer blockbusters, he sort of cringes when he sees them.  That’s why [he] loves the seventies American movies a lot more.  Especially the ones that were number one at the box office in the seventies.  They still have a strong storyline and deep characterization for it, and beautiful scenery.  [He] prefers the seventies movies more so than the movies being made now.

I do too. [Laughing]  Now you made a really interesting choice in the beginning of MOTHER… the dance.  It’s a beautiful scene and it kind of leaves the audience going, ‘What the f*ck is going on?‘

[Laughing] Exactly!


What inspired the dance?

Definitely there was that surprise element that [he] wanted to add in there.  [He] wanted to kind of honestly show the craziness of the mother, in her psyche, like what she must have been… the fact that she was perhaps also unstable in a way.  That, and [he] wanted to foreshadow the fact that in the next two hours she would sort of end up crazy.  And its not like they brought in a choreographer to get her to dance that way.  [Laughing]  Within the movement, they really wanted to specify more her facial expressions.  Sort of her look of lost-ness, like how she’s not all quite there.  And the location itself is important as well.  Especially how, that location you find out at the end is the location she comes back to after she ends up murdering someone.

I loved how it also balanced out the final scene on the bus.

Of course there are all these different emotions going on with all these different mothers and ladies on the bus dancing.  And that was sort of a painful movement too, in a way.  And also, the difference between in the beginning when she is dancing in the field, it is an open kind of space.  But then the bus scene is in a very confined space.

Actually, it happens a lot where when ladies are on a tour bus, they do dance.

[Laughing] Really?

It really does happen.

I’ve gotta get on one of those buses.

[Laughing]  When [he] was younger he would see these older Korean ladies dancing on a bus and he would think to himself, that’s kind of ugly, very interesting.  But as he is getting older [he] sort of gets why they’re dancing and the emotional pull behind that.  And he told himself, around the time, if he were to ever make a movie about mothers, that the dancing on the bus scene would be his final scene and he thought about that back in 2004.


Now, not only with this film, but also with THE HOST, there is a strong family aspect to the film.  Is that something that strikes you as being almost the heart of your films, the family unit?

Its not like [he] is perpetrating the importance of the family unit and whatnot,  you know, like a Walt Disney film…

Oh, most definitely not.

[Laughing]  But it’s the human nature, in the end there is like an almost animal instinct to being part of a family.  It’s just part of being alive and being human.  And that there is definitely a difference, opposites between THE HOST and MOTHER and how the family units are perceived.  They’re opposite being that in THE HOST,  it sort of shows the good nature of having a family, especially at the end where the main character sort of feeds this boy, who is not his son, food and dinner.  It shows the goodness of it.  And in MOTHER, it is showing this relationship that this mother and son have, this very sort of dark element of it.

It is a fascinating relationship, this immensely overprotective nature of her love for her son.  It made the film even more heartbreaking.

[He] wanted to take this on, this kind of story, this relationship of the mother and son, with him being special needs.  And the relationship that they have in the movie is something that is not really normal.  Its an extreme situation.  This love that the mother has for her son is bordering on obsession and the instinct to protect her son.

Now as a fan of the first one, I can’t wait to see The Host 2.  Is that going to happen?  Are you involved?

Not me, but the production company.

Oh that’s wrong.

Misinformation on IMDB Pro maybe.

Of course, yeah.

I have nothing to do with that sequel… for him, [he] is always trying to come up with new stories and develop them.  So for him, making a sequel or doing any kind of remake is not in his plan, or something that he wants to do.

Good for you.  What do you have coming up next?

Now I am in the middle of writing an adaptation of the French graphic novel, THE SNOW PIERCER.

Kind of an apocalypse, end of the world type film?

Obviously, it is kind of a downer story, but at the same time it is very action-packed and sort of a, what is human, what is life… asking that kind of question type of movie.

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