The 50-year-old film industry titan is now a four-time Oscar winner

By Diane J. Cho
February 10, 2020 02:21 PM
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Parasite was already a blockbuster hit in South Korea before it became one of the most talked-about films of 2019 in the United States. The mastermind behind the dark thriller, South Korean-born Bong Joon Ho, premiered the movie at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019, where it became the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or, the top prize of the festival.

Once the film opened in the U.S. last fall in just three theaters — two in Los Angeles and one in New York City — it brought in $376,264 in total ($125,421 per-theater), which made it the biggest per-screen haul of any international film ever, according to Vanity Fair. And on Sunday night, Bong and his film took home Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Director and Best Picture. The historic wins mark the first time in history that a Korean director won the Best Director category and the first time a film has won in both of the Best International Feature Film and Best Picture categories on the same night.

After winning one of the night’s biggest honors, Bong told reporters in the press room backstage through a translator, “I’m just a very strange person. I’ve just done what I’ve always done with great artists.”

“It still feels very surreal,” he continued. “I feel like something will hit me and I will wake up from this dream.”

Bong himself then said in English, “It’s really f—— crazy!”

Han Jin-won, Kwak Sin-ae and Bong Joon Ho
Han Jin-won, Kwak Sin-ae and Bong Joon Ho
| Credit: Michael Buckner/Shutterstock

Since then, several celebrities celebrated Bong’s historic night on Twitter.

Director Ava DuVernay tweeted, “MASSIVE! HISTORIC! LANDMARK! PARASITE! The world is big and it is beautiful and films from everywhere deserve to be on that stage winning @TheAcademy’s highest honor. This is wonderful and right. #Oscars”

Sandra Oh shared her Korean pride, writing, “Congratulations @ParasiteMovie So so proud to be Korean”

Eugene Lee Yang shared, “Language is a core expression of identity. Subtitles do not divide or disqualify – they’re gateways into incredible stories you might have otherwise never known.”

Then added, “Tonight I heard the language of my family on the Oscars stage. I can’t wait to hear many, many more,” while Olivia Munn tweeted, “My Asian heart is very full right now,” before adding the hashtags “#Oscars,” “#Parasite” and “#RepresentationMatters”

By the time the film had circulated in theaters all over the country, everyone from former President Barack Obama to Chris Evans was praising both the film and director-screenwriter.

The suspenseful, dark masterpiece’s overwhelming popularity made it a force to be reckoned with throughout the film festival circuit, and it’s no surprise that Parasite has been the toast of Hollywood, with the entire cast getting a standing ovation at the January SAG Awards when they won outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture.

As for what’s next? The director told reporters backstage at the 2020 Oscars, “I’ve been working for the past 20 years. Regardless of what happened at Cannes and the Oscars, I was working on two projects before. Nothing has changed because of these awards. One is in Korean and one is in English.”

If you’re not as familiar with the acclaimed filmmaker, here are six things you should know.

Bong Joon Ho was born on Sept. 14, 1969, in Daegu, South Korea.

His film credits include 2009’s Mother, 2013’s Snowpiercer and 2017’s Okja.

He has frequently been compared to Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg.

According to the New York Times, the director is often compared to both of the famous American filmmakers because of his “ruthless precision of his technique” and how he develops his “character to have gravity, density, grace and a decent share of stupidity.”

Bong told Slate to ‘please forget’ his 2000 debut movie Barking Dogs Never Bite because it wasn’t very good.

In an October 2019 profile, the director got candid about his very first film: “It was a very stupid movie.” Despite his own harsh opinion of his initial step into cinema, Bong quickly shot to fame with his second film, 2003’s Memories of Murder, and his third international smash, 2006’s The Host.

He hopes that the success of 2019’s Parasite brings more attention to Korean cinema in the U.S.

Bong told NPR in December 2019 that, “Compared to Japanese or Hong Kong film, the history of Korean cinema is relatively lesser known to American and European audiences.” With the worldwide attention his latest movie has received, he added, “I hope, due to the opportunities that have arisen from Parasite, people will realize that Korean cinema has also had a lot of masters.”

Bong Joon-ho
Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

He used to have a tutoring job in college, similar to main character Ki Woo in the film.

During a November 2019 Q&A with Film Linc Daily, Bong revealed that he used to tutor for a very rich family when he was in school. He shared that the experience helped inspire the idea for Parasite.

“That house had a private sauna on the second floor. And so the boys showed off the sauna to me and I still vividly remember the eerie feeling I had just being in that house,” he told the outlet. “I remember how proud that young boy seemed to be of this very rich house and I remember how I felt like I was spying on the private lives of complete strangers. Those personal memories were where my idea for this film began. So rather than just intending to give a political message on class, those personal memories are where this begins.”

The #BongHive has some seriously famous members, including:

Ava DuVernay

Rainn Wilson

Patton Oswalt

Bryan Greenberg

Janelle Monáe

Jimmy Fallon