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Oscars yield to Bong Joon-ho and ‘Parasite’

Director Bong Joon Ho wins the Oscar for Best International Feature Film for
Director Bong Joon Ho wins the Oscar for Best International Feature Film for "Parasite" of South Korea at the 92nd Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, Feb. 9, 2020. (Reuters-Yonhap)

Auteur Bong Joon-ho of “Parasite” has become the first South Korean director to win an Oscar, and he has broken down barriers in a big way with four trophies, including the festival’s most coveted award -- for best picture.

At the 92nd Oscars on Sunday night, Bong received four Oscars for “Parasite” -- best international feature film, best original screenplay, best director and best picture. It turns out the Korean movie had been making history not just for its home country, but for the international film scene.

“Hollywood has completely given into ‘Parasite,’” culture critic Kim Sung-soo said. “(Giving the best picture) Means there is no other film like ‘Parasite’ that portrays the common social problem our humanity is facing right now. In addition, it’s an expression of Hollywood’s strong will to overcome the discriminatory and stereotypical film industry suffocated with capital.”

“Parasite” became the first foreign language film to win best picture at the Oscars, and Bong is the first foreign director to be honored with the best director award. The film is also the first movie from Asia to be recognized for best original screenplay -- and the first foreign language film to get the honor in 17 years, since Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” won in 2003. It is also the first Korean film to win best international feature film, previously known as best foreign language film.

The writing of history began with the best original screen play. Bong and his co-writer Han Jin-won received the honors of best original screen play, a prize that was anticipated by many film critics considering the excellence of the movie’s story.

“It’s important that a film portrays a message regarding a problem that the humanity shares in common,” culture critic Kim Sung-soo said. “‘Parasite’ symbolically shows the issue of wealth gap, a universal agenda, in a very Korean setting. While the film illustrates the poor as living off the wealthy, it does it in a delicate manner that makes the viewers think of whereabouts they may be in the social structure depicted in the movie.”

Another critic Kim Kyung-wook speculated that the lack of original stories especially in Hollywood may have been another factor putting the Korean movie in the spotlight.

“We see a lot of DC comics and Marvel movies in Hollywood, but they haven’t won any awards recently. ‘Parasite’ would have been a fresh shock for those American audience in thirst of original stories,” he said.

Kyung-wook also said Bong’s juggling of genres and the twist in the last moment, leaving a strong and straight-forward message to the audience, is a key feature that makes “Parasite” stand out.

“While the movie made the audience feel like they’re watching a family comedy until the first half, the genre shifts to horror in the middle and the story pushes itself into the tragic ending, at which point the audience feels uncomfortable because they know killing is wrong, but at the same time, they somehow feel the murder could be justified,” she said.

The best director award is a recognition for Bong, “We need to look at how Bong has built up to this award,” Kim said. “While previous South Korean films were more about being ‘Korean,’ Bong -- through film materials, formats and actors -- has made continuous efforts to show to the American film industry that he is a friend to them. Hollywood has opened up to him because he was a receptive director in the first place.”

Having teamed up with a US company and cast for “Snowpiercer” and releasing “Okja” through Netflix, Bong was no stranger to the Hollywood even before “Parasite.”

Sung-soo said the US film society is sending a message to themselves and to the outside world with Bong’s four wins, topped by the best picture award.

“The Academy is at a point where it has to think about the imminent issues facing the American society. They have witnessed the building of walls against other races, economic attacks on nations, and the demeaning of and discrimination against foreign cultures. If they were to sent a message as cineastes, it would be one that says that they respect people of different cultures.”

By Choi Ji-won (