Director Bong Joon-ho and his film “Parasite” rewrote not only Korean film history but also Oscars history.
At the 92nd Academy Awards held at Dolby Theater in Hollywood, Los Angeles on Sunday, February 9, 2020 (local time), Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” won the most number of awards—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film—as the first South Korean film to receive Academy Award recognition. “Parasite” had swept awards for over 10 months after winning the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival; the top honors it received at the Academy Awards placed Korea at the top of the cinema world.
“Parasite” is the first non-English feature film to have won Best Picture in the history of the Academy Awards, and the third film to have won the top prize at both the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Awards. The first film to have won both Palme d’Or and Best Picture was “The Lost Weekend” by director Billy Wilder in 1946, followed by “Marty” by director Delbert Mann in 1955. Half a century later, “Parasite” made history anew.
At the event watched by the global audience, Kwak Sin-ae, CEO of Barunson Entertainment & Arts Corporation, said “I’m speechless. I’m exceedingly happy to see something I’d never imagined become a reality. I feel that history, meaningful and symbolic yet timely, is being written at this moment. I express my deepest respect and gratitude to the Academy jury who made that decision. Thank you.” Miky Lee, Vice chairman of CJ Group who was responsible for the investment and distribution of “Parasite,” said, “Hi everybody! I really like to thank director Bong. Thank you for being you. I like everything about him. His smile, his crazy hair, the way he talks, the way he walks, and especially the way he directs. And what I really like about him is his sense of humor. And the fact is he can be really make fun of himself and never takes himself seriously. Thank you. Thank you very much. And I'd like to thank everybody who has been supporting Parasite, and who has been working with Parasite, and who has been loving Parasite. And I'd like to thank my brother, who has been always supporting building our dreams, even when it looked impossible dream. Thank you Jay, I want to thank my brother Jay. And especially I'd really really really want to thank our Korean film audience, our movie goers who has been really supporting all our movies and never hesitated to give us straightforward opinion on what they feel like their movies. And that made us really never be able to be complacent and keep pushing the directors the creators, keep pushing the envelopes. and without you, our Korean film audience, we are not here, Thank you very much.”
The “Parasite” director beat world-renowned nominees Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood”) Sam Mendes (“1917”), Todd Phillips (“Joker”), and Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”). Bong Joon-ho is the second Asian director to have won an Academy Award following two-time winner Ang Lee for “Brokeback Mountain” in 2006 and “Life Of Pi” in 2013.
In his acceptance speech at the Oscars, Bong Joon-ho said, “Thank you. After winning Best International Feature, I thought I was done for the day and was ready to relax. Thank you so much. When I was young studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is ‘The most personal is the most creative.’ That quote is from our great Martin Scorsese. When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese’s films. Just to be nominated alongside him was a huge honor. I never thought I would win. When people in the U.S. were not familiar with my films, Quentin [Tarantino] always put my films on his list. He’s here, thank you so much. Quentin, I love you. And Todd [Phillips] and Sam [Mendes] are great directors whom I admire. If the Academy allows, I would like to get a Texas chainsaw, split the award into five, and share it with all of you. Thank you. I will drink until tomorrow morning. Thank you.”
“Parasite” also won Best Original Screenplay as the first Asian film and the sixth non-English film to do so in the history of the Oscars. It has been 18 years since Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s non-English film titled “Talk to Her” won in 2003. “Parasite” outclassed competitive nominees “Knives Out,” “Marriage Story,” “1917,” and “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” to win Asia’s first Best Original Screenplay.
In his acceptance speech, Bong Joon-ho said, “Thank you, great honor! Writing a script is such a lonely process. We never write to represent our countries, but this is the very first Oscar for South Korea. Thank you. I thank my wife for always being an inspiration to me. I thank all the actors starring in ‘Parasite’ for bringing this film to life.” Screenwriter Han Jin-won said, “Thank you director Bong, thank you my mom and thank you dad!. Just as there is Hollywood in the Stateside, there’s Chungmuro in Korea. I’d like to share this great honor with all the filmmakers and storytellers in Chungmuro. Thank you and thank you to the Academy.”
“Parasite” was shortlisted for the Best International Feature Film Award, alongside strong contenders “Les Misérables” (France), “Pain and Glory” (Spain), “Corpus Christi” (Poland), and “Honeyland” (North Macedonia) among others. The year before, the honor went to Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma.” Asian films that had previously won the Best International Feature Film Award were “Rashomon” by Akira Kurosawa in 1952 and “Croaching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” by Ang Lee in 2001. It took 19 years for another Asian film to win the award.
Bong Joon-ho delivered another acceptance speech. “Thank you. It’s a great honor. It is much more meaningful because this is the first award after the name of the category changed from ‘Foreign Language’ to ‘International.’ The change of the name is significant, and I applaud the direction being pursued by the Oscars. I’m with the actors and all staff members who made the film tonight. I express my deepest gratitude to our beloved actors Song Gang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Choi Woo-shik, Jang Hye-jin, Park Myung-hoon, Park So-dam, Lee Jeong-eun, and Cho Yeo-jeong and our great cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, production designer Lee Ha-jun, editor Yang Jin-mo, and all the wonderful artists involved. I also thank all the people at Barunson, CJ, and Neon who helped me accomplish my vision. Thank you and I’m ready to drink tonight until next morning.”
Director Bong Joon-ho began his career in 1994 after making the short film “Baeksaekin (White Man).” Not limited by genres, his works were known to include novel and imaginative story lines that could both charm and catch the viewers off guard. The world of his films not only offered the joy of feeling love for humanity, humor, and suspense but also raised questions about society, and this tendency continued in the fictional world of “Parasite,” which received positive reviews from both jury and audience alike.
Since its first release in North America on October 11, 2019, “Parasite” quickly drew attention in all aspects, from direction to screenplay, from performance to mise-en-scene, making the director a viral celebrity. Super-fans sharing memes about him frequently trended with the hashtag #Bonghive. The global press and critics raved about how “Parasite” cinematically addressed the gap between the rich and poor, a common problem of capitalist nations around the world. The film also swept the top prizes in North America’s top four critics awards—the National Society of Film Critics Awards (Best Picture and Best Screenplay), the New York Film Critics Circle Awards (Best Foreign Language Film), the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor), and the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film)—as well as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards, the ADG Excellence in Production Design Awards, and the American Cinema Editors Awards; thus boosting its chances of winning big at the Oscars.
American journalists and film critics also predicted that “Parasite” would win big at the Oscars. Justin Chang, a film critic for The Los Angeles Times, stressed that “Parasite” deserved to win Best Picture; “Rotten Tomatoes,” an American review-aggregation website for film and television, predicted that “Parasite” would be the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Award. Both media mentioned that the Best International Feature Film was “already in the bag” for the South Korean film. Variety said that Bong Joon-ho would win the Best Director Award, with business magazine Forbes stating, “The masterpiece ‘Parasite’ is the best picture of the year… building a series of thrilling surprises and an ending that is both shocking and emotionally riveting.”
Behind the brilliant achievement and performance of the film was a vital process known as the “Academy Campaign,” the first of its kind as a collective effort exerted by the Korean film industry. The campaign has long been considered an annual event for Hollywood studios; to Korean moviemakers, however, it was a long and hard race to make “Parasite” a forerunner. Long before the official release date of the film on October 11, 2019, CJ ENM had established a budget from early on and gone all out in promotional activities to target the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or AMPAS, who vote at the awards and North American distributor Neon. After the full-scale campaign kicked off in September, Director Bong Joon-ho faced a crazy schedule crammed with hundreds of interviews and appearances at promotional events. “Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films. BTS has 3,000 times the amount of power and influence that I have. I think Korea produces a lot of great artists because we’re very emotionally dynamic people."" Bong Joon-ho’s moving quotes received media attention around the world. His activities were supported by actors including Song Kang-ho, staff, and team at producer Barunson Entertainment who frequently traveled between Korea and the U.S. Korean industry professionals believe that the know-how obtained from the Academy Campaign would serve as an important experience for the future.
Owing to the film’s stellar performance at the Oscars, the amazing box office turnout in North America is expected to continue for a while. According to Box Office Mojo, “Parasite” has raked in US$35,472,282 in North America and US$165,362,304 worldwide as of now. The film is currently showing in a total of 1,060 theaters. The box office revenues from North America were the sixth highest among all non-English films that made it big in North America. The former no. 6 was the 2001 film “Amélie,” which earned US$33,225,499, with the 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth” earning US$37,634,615 to land on the fifth spot. “Parasite” was released in a total of 67 countries/regions, including Korea, U.S., UK, France, Australia, Russia, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Italy, Brazil, Sweden, Mexico, Japan, and India.