‘Parasite’ makes Oscars history with first win for South Korea

Director Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won, winners of the original screenplay Oscar for “Parasite.”
Director Bong Joon Ho, center, and Han Jin Won, winners of the original screenplay Oscar for “Parasite.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Director Bong Joon Ho’s genre-jumbling class satire — a twisty, darkly comic thriller about two families, one rich and one poor, whose lives become entangled — made Oscars history tonight by becoming the first Korean film win the international feature prize.

In all, the breakout hit film scored six Oscar nominations, including international feature (which was known as foreign language film before this year).

Since its rapturously received debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where it won the Palme d’Or, “Parasite” has worked its way into the American cinematic bloodstream like few foreign-language films in memory, earning key wins at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards among other honors.

Director Bong, 50, has been building a devoted fan base since the early 2000s with idiosyncratic but always thrilling and thought-provoking genre mash-ups such as “Memories of Murder,” “The Host” and “Mother,” edging closer to the Hollywood mainstream with 2013’s dystopian sci-fi action film “Snowpiercer” and 2017’s un-categorizable adventure film “Okja.” Now, with “Parasite” — which is reportedly set to become the basis for an HBO limited series — Bong, who was nominated for directing, has achieved the sort of global recognition many feel he has always deserved.

As positive word-of-mouth around “Parasite” gathered steam in the fall at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, many wondered if it could follow the path of last year’s Alfonso Cuarón-directed “Roma” and break out of the academy’s foreign-language box to score a best picture nomination, a feat that fewer than a dozen international films have ever pulled off in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 92-year history.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times at Telluride in September, Bong said he felt the film’s depiction of the divide between the haves and have-nots had the potential to resonate with audiences everywhere, even if he couldn’t then imagine how big the #BongHive would eventually grow.

“Of course, on the surface level, all of the details, the mannerisms, the people and the visual elements are all very Korean,” Bong said. “But the topic of the gap between rich and poor lends itself to being so universal. I think every country has their own structures and conflicts regarding class. But when you really delve deep into the cave of capitalism and explore the sort of infinite darkness of it, you find a similar sort of mechanism flows throughout.”


Whether “Parasite” can go on to win best picture — something no foreign-language film has ever done — remains to be seen. But for Bong, the nomination itself already represented a kind of victory.

“I hope this serves as an inspiration for young filmmakers in Korea,” Bong told The Times after the Oscar nominations were announced. “I never create films for the sake of the country, but I think it’s great that a film I created for personal reasons ends up contributing to the entire industry.”