This article originally appeared on VICE Korea.
"I didn't want to turn a blind eye to reality even a little bit," said South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho at his first press conference since returning to Seoul from a successful awards season run on February 19.
His film Parasite, which won Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards held earlier this month, also became the first South Korean film to take home the Best International Feature Film trophy. Bong was also awarded Best Director and credited for the film’s Best Original Screenplay win. Even before that, in 2019, Parasite became the first film from South Korea to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
It’s no surprise then that Bong was greeted with a hero’s welcome upon his return. The press conference venue was swarming with about 500 journalists. Most wanted to know what made Parasite so successful. To Bong, the answer is simple: Parasite is about all of us.
While his previous films like 2006’s The Host and 2013’s Snowpiercer have sci-fi elements, Parasite — a film about stark class divide — is a story we can all relate to.
“[It is] because the film was based on reality, so it garnered massive popularity,” Bong said.
Parasite centers on the Kims, a poor Korean family living in a dark semi-basement, who con their way into working in the rich-but-ignorant Park family’s palatial home.
"I tried to reflect reality from the beginning to the end,” Bong said.
But this direction did not come without concerns. The filmmaker feared that the story might be too close for comfort for audiences and cause the movie to fail commercially.
“Despite these concerns and fears, I didn’t want to avoid such reality and wanted to depict the reality as frankly as I can without any decorations."
Bong’s co-screenwriter Han Jin-won credited the film’s success to the question it does not answer: Who is the real ‘parasite’ in the story?
"The confrontation between good and evil is not clear in the movie (compared to other films)," said Han said. "It's charming that we can all feel compassion for each character because all the characters have their own stories and reasons for their actions."
Actress Lee Jung-eun, who plays the housekeeper, believes the film’s message is a universal one.
"The United States and Europe also have gone through many social problems,” she said. “The movie portrays contemporary problems with humor and depth.”
Actress Cho Yeo-jung, who plays Mrs. Park, agreed. "I thought about how much Bong took a humane approach regardless of the language barriers so that the movie could appeal to all kinds of audience,'' she said. “I was proud to be on the Academy stage thanks to him.”
She then quoted one of Bong’s acceptance speeches, saying: 'We use only one language: the cinema'
“I was able to actually feel the real power of the cinema."
Parasite received a total of 174 awards at international film festivals (19) and award ceremonies (155), according to the film’s production company CJ Entertainment. It also set numerous records including:
- Most awarded film at the 92nd Academy Awards (a total of 4)
- Winner of all four Hollywood Industry Guild Awards — the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG), Writers Guild Awards (WGA), American Cinema Editors Awards (ACE), and Art Directors Guild Awards (ADG)
- The third foreign language film to win the most awards at the Oscars, following 1982’s Fanny and Alexander and 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- The third film to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Picture at the Oscars, following 1945’s The Lost Weekend and 1955’s Marty
- The first non-English language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars
- The second Asian director to win Best Director at the Oscars, following Ang Lee
- The first Asian film to win Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars
- The first film to win Best Picture and Best International Feature Film at the Oscars at the same time
Find Junhyup Kwon on Twitter.