The name Bong Joon-ho would not have had much significance to the casual movie enthusiast, however, because of Bong’s historic Oscar win at the 92nd Academy Awards, his name will forever be recognised in the film industry.
If you were not one of the millions of people who tuned in to watch the Oscars on 9 February, Bong Joon-ho is a South Korean filmmaker who has been quietly creeping up on the academy with his genre-mixing filmography. His films include some English language films such as the critically acclaimed Snowpiercer (2013) that featured Hollywood heavyweights Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and Octavia Spencer.
One might also recognize his work in the Netflix original film Okja (2017) which criticized the food industry by telling the story of a young girl (Ahn Seo-hyun) who raises a genetically modified super pig. He also gained a lot of critical acclaim and controversy in South Korea with his Korean films, Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006) and Mother (2009). But certainly, his most pivotal and critically acclaimed movie is Parasite (2019).
Parasite is a dark comedy that follows a poor South Korean family, the Kims as they slowly impose themselves on the lives of a rich family, the Parks. The Kims con their way into becoming servants in the Park household but things get complicated and their plan begins to unravel. The film features an amazing cast with Song Kang-ho (who you may recognize from Snowpiercer and The Interview), Sun-kyun Lee and Yeo-jeong Jo.
Parasite started to garner attention at the Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered. The film won the coveted Palme d’Or (the highest prize at Cannes), a particularly impressive feat as it was the first film since 2013’s Blue is The Warmest Colour to win the award through a unanimous vote. So, to say that Parasite came into awards season with a bang is an understatement. When Parasite was released in theatres, it became a record-breaking film for Bong Joon-ho as it was the first of his films to gross over $100 million worldwide and in the UK, it made £1.4 million in its opening weekend, a new record for a non-English language film.
Not only did the film make an unprecedented amount for a non-English language film in the international market, but it was also extremely well received by critics. The film has 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, 96% on Metacritic and featured in the top ten of the year lists of 240 critics. The critics praised the film for its in-depth look at social issues with many critics calling it a masterpiece or the film of the year. All of this hype led to a much-anticipated Oscars night with fans and critics wondering what Parasite’s run at the awards show would look like.
The 92nd Academy Awards was swamped in controversy, from there being no female directors nominated for the Best Director category and an extreme lack of POC nominees to very famous faces being left out of the memorial-specifically Luke Perry and Cameron Boyce. When the nominees were announced on 13 January, the awards show looked like it would be its usual elitist self with mostly white males. However, Parasite surprised everyone by taking home the biggest awards of the night.
Parasite began by winning Best Original Screenplay which was written by Bong Joon-ho himself and Han Jin-won, where they were the first-ever Asian nominees. The film then went on to win Best International Feature Film which was a new category introduced by The Academy this year, replacing the previous title of Best Foreign Language Feature, as the word ‘foreign’ has negative connotations to anyone outside of the West. This win already made Parasite’s, and Bong Joon-ho’s, Oscar run historical as it was the first film ever to win the award under this title.
Bong Joon-ho then won the Oscar for Best Director, in his acceptance speech Joon-ho seemed genuinely shocked and even stated he thought he was done for the night. During his speech he also took a moment to thank his fellow nominees stating that Martin Scorsese (nominated for The Irishman) is one of his biggest inspirations; but Parasite was not done yet and walked away with the biggest award of the night: Best Picture. When Parasite won the Oscar for Best Picture, it became the first non-English language film ever to win the award. Not only is this win history in the making but it was also extremely well received by the best and brightest in Hollywood as everyone in the Oscar’s crowd was cheering for the film and ensuring that the cast had enough time to say their acceptance speech. Bong Joon-ho’s incredible film not only made history but also paved the way for a more inclusive future.
Parasite has opened new doors for what the film world used to consider ‘foreign’. The whole concept of ‘foreignness’ is an outdated one, and although The Academy is making some progress with the Best International Feature Film category, we have to question why the separate category is even a thing. Film is meant to break rules and boundaries, it is meant to connect people in spite of different languages, just like Parasite does, so why are award shows so persistent in creating such a clear divide between English and non-English language films?
Image: Cletus Mulaudi