While most horror fans know what’s up already, searches for both the film Parasite and Bong Joon-Ho spiked at 7:30 pm PST as he took the stage to accept the Oscar for Original Screenplay and continued to climb as he accepted a total of 4 Oscars including Best Picture, Director, International Film, and Original Screenplay for Parasite.
A momentous occasion marking not only the duo of Bong Joon-Ho and Jin Won Han’s first academy awards but also being the very first Oscar win for a South Korean film. The night wasn’t done there though with Parasite further making history as the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture as well. With each consecutive win more and more Oscar viewers took to Google to learn more about the South Korean filmmaker as he humbly accepted the awards along with Jin Won Han, both of whom thanked their teams, celebrated fellow South Korean filmmakers, and at one point inviting everyone involved to stand and be recognized.
Bong Joon-Ho’s four Oscar wins tonight including Best Picture, Director, International Film, and Original Screenplay are historic. Marking only the second time in the history of the Oscars that an Asian produced film has won an academy award since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; another genre film that would beat the Oscar odds to claim 4 wins though missing Best Picture and Best Director. It’s important to celebrate this distinction not to downplay the importance of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; but more in the sense that “It’s about fucking time.”
South Korea’s first Oscar is truly an amazing moment in film making history. For a genre picture to finally earn the country it’s first academy award is nothing that should be ignored. The Oscars largely ignore genre pictures, often not nominating a film or leaving genre icons out of the Memorial tributes. Predictably guilty of this shit again this year as horror fans were quick to notice the egregiously missing Sid Haig in this year’s presentation. Genre film making is often still snubbed and looked down on by an industry that struggles to admit that horror films have been keeping the lights on for decades. For a genre film to land a country it’s very first Oscar for these categories and specifically for Best Picture is such an incredibly improbable feat it speaks to the sheer talent of Bong Joon-Ho; while also showing a lot of promise for the film making community in South Korea.
Korean New Wave cinema began as a renaissance lead by emerging young talents supported previously by the new financing made possible by chaebols . A chaebol is basically a business entity or family trust that would directly invest in many different companies and projects as part of its investment portfolio to generate profit. As South Korea loosened censorship on films and instituted even more regulations mandating South Korean films to be screened more often than Western/Imported films these business conglomerates were just beginning to venture into film production.
With the government still pushing screening quotas and the audiences clamoring for content a boom in film production and financing swept through South Korea. The first instance of this was 1992’s Marriage Story and led to the support and curation of a fresh young community of filmmakers who could turn out profitable films cheaply. Their involvement would bring structure and establish many best business practices for the emerging film industry.
It would be a short-lived resurgence though as a financial crisis in 1997 would mark the end of chaebols being involved in film making largely as many companies and families pulled out of the industry to protect their business interests. Left in the wake of their departure was an entire industry of young talented filmmakers who now had a crash course in every aspect of film making and releasing having been relied on heavily at all levels of the process. This setback would only be temporary though as it led to an entirely new movement of genre film making finding these young filmmakers suddenly left to their own devices with a newly minted blueprint for navigating the film industry that in many ways they built themselves. What followed next was an explosion of genre films of all types from horror to ultra-violent gangster opuses.
Korean New Wave was really hitting the US heavily in the early 2000s and horror fans were leading the way to discover a whole new world of spooky shit. Many mainstream movie fans might be finding out about Bong Joon-Ho’s work for the first time or are realizing he did OKJA for Netflix and are checking out his other work finally. Us die-hard horror fans though? We knew already. Bong Joon-Ho made a literal splash on the horror scene when The Host surfaced in 2006. At the time horror hounds were hunting down tables with DVDs at conventions and raving about it on message boards all over the horror web.
It’s not important to discuss which happened first, both the J-Horror and Korean New Wave enjoyed a good run as interest in both scenes surged in the mid-2000s. It’s undeniable that the two did not benefit from each other’s momentum introducing US genre audiences to new and truly terrifying films at a time when Direct to Video movies were quickly becoming the place to find the best genre films of the day. This realization that DTV genre releases were often better than larger films would lead fans to seek out more foreign and indie film in hopes of discovering that the next hidden classic and Korean New Wave and J-Horror were poised and ready to take advantage of this newfound respect for smaller release films.
Thanks largely to how these filmmakers and the audiences embraced genre filmmaking has largely shaped the South Korean film industry at its core. This passion for genre films would lead to the creation of one of the largest genre film festivals in the world held every year in Bucheon South Korea. Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, or BIFAN as it is commonly known, has grown immensely from its inception in 1997 to one of the largest celebrations of Asian filmmaking in the world growing in tandem with the explosion of creativity coming out of the Korean New Wave cinema.
Tonight was a major accomplishment for South Korean filmmakers and the Korean New Wave cinema now almost 30 years in the making. The talents behind this rise of genre-focused and often highly stylized or ambitiously impressive films have forged their own paths in many ways taking initiative and hustle to new meanings. A lot of things came together in just the right way from a financial crisis to a sudden evolution in audiences’ tastes. Many people had to sacrifice and put in a lot of hard work to get to this moment and created some amazing movies along the way. When Bong Joon-Ho and Jin Won Han thanked their fellow filmmakers in the audience and back home there was a real significance to that statement that they did not do this alone. Certainly, this is a moment for all of the South Korean filmmaking community.
New to Bong Joon-Ho’s Work? Here are some great places to start! Starting with my personal favorite The Host!