Los Angeles – It was the first time that a South Korean film won a Golden Globe in the Best Foreign Film category when Bong Joon-ho’s dark comedy “Parasite” won.
Recently, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards also minted the actors by giving them the Best Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award – also the first time that a foreign film cast bagged such an award. They defeated the casts of “Bombshell,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit” and “Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood.”
When the SAG audience gave the cast a standing ovation at the beginning of the ceremony, it was a glimpse into the victorious ending of the night for the South Korean congregation.
At the Globes, the whole cast jumped for joy and cried upon learning of their Golden Globe award.
Last year, the movie also bagged the top award in Cannes, the Palme D’Or.
Will their lucky streak continue up to the Oscars where the film is nominated for six awards that includes Best Picture, Best Director and Best International Feature Film? Will it be the first non-English production to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture?
We recently talked to the humble and boyish-looking director Bong Joon-ho and he talked about the genesis for this film.
“I also worked as a tutor when I was in College,” he replied. “I tutored for a very rich family in a very big house and I taught a middle school boy there. And the boy one day took me to the second floor to the private sauna, it was a very big extravagant sauna. So, I remember having this very strange feeling that I was spying on the private lives of complete strangers and feeling like I was infiltrating that rich house. And so those were some of the inspirations for this film. So, I just remember imagining what would happen if I take all my friends and infiltrate their houses one by one.”
We asked him about the economic class structure in the movie and how easily the Kim family was seduced by the wealth of the other family.
He said, “To be honest, when the Kim family enters the house, it’s not as if the intention is to become rich, it’s just that they don’t have jobs, all they want is jobs. And if you look at the protagonist of the Kim family, they are completely normal, capable smart people, they are not lazy losers. But then the sad reality is that they don’t have jobs, and I think that’s the current state of not only Korea, but countries all over the world, where people without problems don’t have jobs. In the very last part of the movie the young son, he said, I will buy this house for father. It’s quite sad. Maybe he already knows it’s impossible. So, I even calculated that if the young guy, young boy, his average salary, it would take maybe 547 years to buy the house. I felt very sad and complicated when I wrote that line. I think that really talks about the gap between rich and poor and polarization that’s so prevalent in society these days.”
We asked the charming 50-year-old director how he balances all these different genres of comedy, drama, social drama and such.
“So people often ask me how I mix genres and how I am able to shift tones so naturally, but I don’t really know how to answer,” he answered. “For me, I never am aware that I’m doing that. Maybe for me it’s much more far, very difficult to keep a same tone for the whole two hours, it’s a much too difficult task for me. For me it’s very natural. So, whether you call it genre or atmosphere I always like multiple elements to be intertwined simultaneously, that’s always more comfortable and natural to me. And also, because this is all based on emotions, and emotions are always intertwined. If the tone shifts from A to B, there’s already elements of B and A and elements of A and B, so even as the tone shifts, it’s not considered this drastic change for me.”
Asked how he felt when he showed the film first in Cannes and got the highest award, Bong Joon-ho admitted, “So initially I was quite nervous to screen the film in Cannes. This was my first Korean language film in a while after ‘Snowpiercer’ and ‘Okja’ and I really had a great experience just filling the film with very Korean details and nuances. And so, I was curious and sort of worried how a Western audience would respond. But then just after the screening in Cannes and then Sydney Film Festival and Germany and also Telluride and Toronto, in many different countries with many different audiences, the reaction was almost all the same. So, the great responses are pretty immediate, and people seem to laugh at the same time, cry at the same time, so I felt pretty relieved to see such responses. And I thought about why, why are the responses so similar? And I think in the end, it’s because the story about the rich and poor is very universal. So, after screening this film in many countries, the conclusion that I came to, is that it’s that the story has gotten such similar responses because currently we live in this one giant nation of capitalism. Capitalism just surrounds us in our daily life, and I think that’s why.”
Filming of the movie took 74 days, he shared. “So, I’m very lucky and my producers and financers, they were very supportive. And during the whole post-production, they just left me alone, they said nothing. And I really had total freedom. On the other hand, with that freedom comes a sense of responsibility and I am not the face of the Korean film industry but because I receive a lot of support, I do always strive to create the best film I can and to present it to the international audience as you all here,” he added.
So at what age did he think he could be a filmmaker and what films influenced him?
“Actually, I’m not sure, but maybe around 11 or 12 years old, when I was in middle school in Korea,” he narrated. “And at that time already I had made up my mind to be a director. I don’t know why but I was a huge fan of films ever since I was little, I watched so many films almost a little too much. So, at the time, there was no Cinematheque in South Korea and also there was no, of course there was no internet or DVD. So, I watched a lot of films that were broadcast on TV and cable channels. Just seven, eight, nine years old, I was a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies and overwhelmed by his suspense. And also, cinema as a very traumatic experience was ‘The Wages of Fear’ by Henri-Georges Clouzot on television when I was eight or nine years old. I remember being so nervous and overwhelmed that I couldn’t even go to the bathroom. And slowly as I became more and more fascinated by those films, my interest turned to what happens behind the camera, who creates these films? I couldn’t even sleep because of this film yesterday, who in the world made it? And so, I started to discover more names of the directors and I started memorizing them and naturally I wanted to become a filmmaker.
“The funny thing was when I was a little kid in Korea, there was a broadcast channel called AFKN, ‘American Forces Korean Network.’ It was some kind of broadcasting for American armies in Seoul, in Korea. So, every Friday night, they had great movies there, very adult, sex and violence was there. My family members were all sleeping, but me in the living room watching all those movies, at the time I had no information about the movie, but actually I found out about those movies of John Carpenter and Brian De Palma and Sam Peckinpah. So, I discovered who they were in College and realized that the films I watched when I were little, were all by these great masters. And so, because I didn’t speak English, understand English when I was little, I couldn’t understand any of the dialogue. So, I just imagined the story of those films as I was watching them. And I think they really just piled up inside my body, there were sort of R-Rated midnight films that I watched, the sensibility from those films are what runs through my bloodstreams. And it’s not that I studied them, I just purely enjoyed those films.”