American action movies are often dominated by gun violence, but that’s not a problem in South Korea. “Okja” director Bong Joon-ho was asked by TIFF in a recent video essay why South Korean cinema is so extreme when it comes to depicting violence, and the filmmaker had a surprising answer: South Korean directors don’t rely on gun violence.
“We have no guns in our society,” Bong said about South Korea. “So our gangsters [in the movies] have blades. They use the knives that sushi chefs use. That’s actually scarier and more extreme. Being so close before shoving a knife into someone, there’s an intimacy with the closeness, much more so than in a gun fight.”
Bong explains that “slicing through a body is so much more terrifying paired with the sound of a blade cutting through flesh” than the same type of violence executed by a gun. For this reason, audiences may find themselves having a more visceral reaction to the hand-to-hand violence in South Korean cinema than they do the gun violence in American action films.
“Think about slicing sashimi from my stomach,” Bong said. “That’s scary.”
Bong’s most recent directorial effort was the adventure drama “Okja,” which played Cannes last year and became available to stream on Netflix last fall. You can watch the director’s full comments on South Korean cinema in the TIFF video below.