Entertainment

Bong Joon Ho Was the Star of the Oscars, But It Wasn't All About Him

The sweeping success of 'Parasite' at last night's Academy Awards is much bigger than one person.
February 10, 2020, 1:15pm
bong joon ho holding oscars after winning four awards including best picture at the 92nd academy awards for "parasite"
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic

In the face of forecasted wins by more predictable Oscars contenders, Bong Joon Ho's Parasite swept last night's Academy Awards, winning four Oscars including Best Picture. Parasite's success was a landmark moment in many ways: a first win at the Academy Awards for both Bong and South Korea, as well as the first film in a non-English language to win Best Picture in the Awards' 92 years. It also took home awards for Directing, International Feature Film, and Original Screenplay.

Judging by audience reactions at the awards and on Twitter, Bong was the night's big star—just as he's been throughout awards season, in which he's become known for his quotable one-liners. With each Oscars win, he fired off more of those ("I will drink until next morning," for example), but Bong also took each opportunity on stage as a time to call out other people's good work, as he's done at every other awards show. Bong's success is clearly much bigger than him, and he seems to know that.

When he took the stage to receive the awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film, Bong asked the crowd to applaud actors in his film, and called out cinematographer Hong Kyung Pyo and production designer Lee Ha Jun.

Bong's support of the work by the people around him has been a through-line of his approach to awards season. It's even been dubbed his "dad energy," the most memorable example of which happened at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, when Bong went viral for his excitement and cell phone shots of the Parasite cast after they won Outstanding Performance by a Cast. Perhaps that attitude was the real star of this award's season.

The director's call-outs to the Parasite cast's work have been particularly important given their lack of recognition for acting skill at big awards like the BAFTAS, Golden Globes, and the Oscars. But that tendency to share the wealth doesn't apply to just his movie. When Bong won for Best Director, he called out the others in the category in a speech reminiscent of Cady Heron's Mean Girls prom scene, acknowledging the influence they've had on his own work and the importance of their films, too.

"When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese films. Just to be nominated was a huge honor. I never thought I would win," Bong said through his interpreter. "When people in the United States were not familiar with my films, Quentin [Tarantino] always put my films on his list. He's here, thank you so much. Quentin, I love you. And Todd [Phillips] and Sam [Mendes], great directors that I admire. If the Academy allows, I would like to get a Texas chainsaw, split the award into five and share it with all of you."

Parasite's wins over the course of awards season haven't just been big wins for Bong: they've been big moments for the actors and crew members involved with the movie, many of whom are relatively new to Hollywood even if they're known in Korea. To see the support Bong has put towards their collective efforts is a step toward recognition for more diverse films in all categories, and he's used his platform to elevate the people around him.

Exactly how Bong's effects will be felt throughout Hollywood will be on time to decide, but Parasite has undeniably broken new ground for international and non-English language film in the United States, and we might want to get used to Bong moving those efforts forward. Big successes this year from films like Parasite and the Academy snubbed but critically beloved The Farewell could prove that the door might finally be open for Asian creatives from across the world to finally find more recognition in Hollywood. This year, we have Alan Yang's Tigertail and Lee Isaac Chung's already acclaimed Minari to look forward to.

With Bong's 2013 Snowpiercer trending on Twitter quickly after Parasite's Oscars win, it's clear that the Parasite's success can also be a path to exploring the wealth of Korean cinema in Bong's repertoire and beyond. It normalizes foreign-language films for an English speaking audience; to summarize what Bong has said himself, subtitles really are just an inch-high barrier, not too hard to get past. More broadly, Parasite's win certainly provides a strong counterargument to the idea that American awards shows should focus primarily on English films, a mindset that has hurt films like last year's Roma.

That said, Bong's influence might be even more direct than we think. Last month, he announced that his interpreter, Sharon Choi, is also a director, and as reporters shared on Twitter last night, Choi plans to start work on a film of her own as soon as Parasite's award season ends. According to The Wrap's Steve Pond, that could be a movie about awards season, and per movie writer Anna Klassen, Bong has already gotten started hyping it up for the Hollywood crowd. Thanks, awards season dad.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.