Director Bong Joon-ho has rewritten the history of films with “Parasite.” The film surprised the world on Sunday local time by winning four trophies including best picture, best director, best original screen play and best international feature film. “Parasite” is the first non-English language film to win best picture in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards, boasting Korea’s competitive content power in the center of the world’s popular culture.
Korean films has won more than 10 trophies in three major film festivals in Europe, but Hollywood’s wall was higher to climb. No Asian film has ever won an Academy Award for best original screenplay. Taiwanese director Lee Ang won the Academy Award for Best Director, but it was a Hollywood film shot with Hollywood capital and actors.
Bong has been garnering attention with his cinematic imagination through which he unravels criticisms on society. “Parasite” also became a sensation in various parts of the world through a scathing satire on the gap between the rich and poor, which is a problem of every country. The film raked in 55 awards and 57 invitations from international film festivals, and now it is the sixth most popular foreign film released in the U.S. American cable television network HBO plans to adapt the film into a limited series.
“So many Korean filmmakers blazed trails for me,” said Bong, highlighting 101-year long tradition of Korean films which he says was the background of Parasite’s success. What made Korean films stronger was, ironically, was the crisis of the domestic film industry given that Korean films depended on Hollywood films. When Korea started direct distribution of foreign films in 1988 and cut the screen quota, which required cinemas to show homegrown films for 146 days per year, in 2006, Korean filmmakers vehemently resisted saying that it was the death of Korean films and loss of cultural sovereignty. But directors Lim Kwon-taek, Lee Chang-dong and Park Chan-wook brought good news from three major international film festivals, which was the result of adapting to fierce competition to overcome the crisis. Korean films’ share in domestic theaters increased to 51 percent last year from 35.1 percent in 2000.
Korean films, TV shows and K-pops are popular not only in Asia, but also in the U.S. and Europe from which Korea used to import cultural products. It is not because of the government’s protective policies, Korean films were left alone to compete freely. “The most adventurous attempts have the biggest power to disrupt when they resonate among the audience,” said Bong. It is the start of the new decade. Year 2020 is hoped to be the year of growing Korea’s soft power with creativity and can-do spirits.