New Straits Times - - World -

SEOUL: Only a few months ago South Korean di­rec­tor Bong Joon-ho was on a gov­ern­ment black­list. Now, his big-bud­get movie Okja is be­ing talked up as a con­tender for the top prize at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

The mild-man­nered film­maker, who has been com­pared to “Steven Spiel­berg in his prime” by no less than Quentin Tarantino, was se­cretly tar­geted by the for­mer pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye.

Un­der her, the au­thor­i­ties black­listed nearly 10,000 artists and writ­ers who ex­pressed “left-wing thoughts” — crit­i­cis­ing her or her poli­cies.

“It was a such a night­mar­ish few years that left many South Korean artistes deeply trau­ma­tised,” said Bong.

“Many are reel­ing from the trauma,” said the di­rec­tor, whose US$50 mil­lion (RM220 mil­lion) Net­flix fea­ture, which pre­mieres to­mor­row, is about a coun­try girl who tries to save a ge­net­i­cally-en­gi­neered beast from a greedy multi­na­tional com­pany.

The black­list, aimed at starv­ing the artistes of state sub­si­dies, read like a Who’s Who of Seoul’s art scene, in­clud­ing Bong and Park Chan-wook, whose erotic thriller The Hand­maiden be­came an in­ter­na­tional hit af­ter it pre­miered at Cannes last year.

Bong, 47, made his name with a se­ries of films seen as satires of South Korean so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing crime thriller Mem­o­ries of Mur­der, which por­trays the re­pres­sive so­cial at­mos­phere un­der army rule in the 1980s.

His 2006 mon­ster block­buster The Host de­scribes an in­com­pe­tent gov­ern­ment left help­less in the wake of a dis­as­ter. Eight years later, par­al­lels were drawn be­tween the film and the Se­wol ferry sink­ing that killed 300 peo­ple, mostly school­child­ren.

Af­ter the na­tion watched the ship slowly sink on live tele­vi­sion, Park’s gov­ern­ment came un­der fire for its botched res­cue ef­forts, and Bong was among those who backed an in­quiry.

Many artistes who joined the call for an in­quiry were in­cluded in the black­list, with some placed un­der se­cret state sur­veil­lance. AFP


Bong Joon-ho French po­lice­men walk­ing past the Palace of Fes­ti­vals and Con­fer­ences, where the 70th Cannes Film Fes­ti­val is held, on the French Riviera yes­ter­day.


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