“I've Seen Scorsese Lose This Award Multiple Times And I Used To Be So Frustrated”

Abhishek Srivastava - 32 weeks ago

Bong Joon Ho in one of his many interviews during run up to the awards season, which concluded with the 92nd Academy Awards, had once mentioned that “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many amazing films.” The Academy finally overcame that barrier. We reproduce Bong Joon Ho’s backstage interview after he won the Best Director Oscar at the 92nd Academy Awards.

(Director Spike Lee presenting the Best Director Oscar trophy to Bong Joon Ho)

How do you become great storyteller, best director and win over Hollywood?

So I'm just a very strange person. I just did what I've always done with great artists, with producer Kwak and my cowriter Han Jin Won and with all my actors. It was the same process making this film, but we've had these amazing results. It still feels very surreal. I feel like something will hit me and I will wake up from this dream.

So people, when they talk about co-productions, they're always saying that it's difficult to do Hollywood, you know, co-productions with Korea or China or Asian cultures because the stories are different and they don't communicate as well. So how were you able to grasp the universality of the story and translate it in a way that everybody could react to?

So my previous film Okja was a co-production between Korea and the U.S., but Parasite, which is a purely Korean film, has garnered more enthusiasm from audiences all over the world, and that's making me think that, perhaps, the deeper I delve into things that are around me, the broader the story can become and the more appeal it can have to an international audience.

Was there ever a moment when you were a young boy watching the Oscars on Korean television that maybe you would think of going into filmmaking you said, "Maybe that can be me one day"? As small as the chance might have been, did you ever dream of winning an Oscar?

So I've seen Scorsese lose this award multiple times and he didn't know me back then, but I was so frustrated. I remember when he won for The Departed, I was so excited. So to be nominated with him has been a huge honour. It's hard to believe.

(Bong Joon Ho on the sets of Parasite)

And can I also ask you, what does this do for the acceptance in this country of foreign language films, films with subtitles? Is this a breakthrough moment, do you think, and allows you, other people from -- who make films in foreign languages?

So during the Golden Globes I mentioned the one-inch barrier of subtitles, but I feel like that was already a little late. People were already overcoming these barriers. There are streaming services, YouTube, social media, and the environment that we currently live in, I think we are all connected. So I think naturally we will come to a day when a foreign language film -- or not, it doesn't really matter -- a foreign language film winning this won't be much of an issue later on, hopefully.

This is amazing. This is history tonight. This is history, not just for the Academy Awards, but for South Korea. Can you please talk about that significance?

So it's the first time a Korean film has been nominated for the Oscars, so to just win one award would have been a huge celebration, but to win in four categories, six Oscars in total, I can't even imagine the atmosphere in Korea right now and what would happen when we get back. But I did once imagine what it would mean to win Best Picture. To win Best Picture means that this film was voted by the members of the Academy, and I realized that that would signal the beginning of a different kind of change for international cinema, not just for Korea. So in that sense, it would have been great to win. We did win.

What a historic night. Four historic wins for South Korea and also for Asians in general. So, Mr. Joon Ho, can you talk about your early influences, Asian directors in particular, who influenced you when you were growing up and to make you what you are now?

It's quite many. So first of all, the Kim Ki-young, the Korean big master, he is a huge master in the 1960s and '70s who made The Housemaid, the movie digitally restored by the Martin Scorsese Foundation, you can find out that movie in the Criterion DVD, I strongly recommend. And I also strongly inspired by many Japanese directors, like Imamura Shohei, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, all those masters, and also, yeah, quite many wonderful Asian directors. For example, the Taipei New Wave directors, like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Edward Yang, they also -- they made always so beautiful movie which I admire so much, yeah.

(Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, Woo-sik Choi and So-dam Park during the shooting of Parasite)

Your win is not just a win for South Korea, but it's a win for international films, especially Asian cinema. My question is, what is your message for the actors of Asian descent that are based in Hollywood? It's more than winning an Oscar, more than getting a nomination. They're just fighting to get more work. What is your message? What does this award mean to them?

Yesterday, in the Indie Spirit -- Indie Spirit Award, The Farewell, Lulu Wang, won the Best Picture, so I was so happy with her. I really love her works but I don't think it's necessary to separate all the borders and divisions, whether it's Asia, Europe or the U.S. If we pursue the beauty of cinema and focus on the individual charms that each piece has, I think then we will naturally overcome all these barriers. Me and Lulu Wang, we all just make a movie, yeah. It's all the same, yeah.

Congratulations on your win. Now, seeing that -- seeing the four wins at the Oscars, do you have anything planned? Because everyone's going to want to do work with you now. Do you have anything in the future that's going to be planned for international films in Hollywood or anywhere else?

I do have a plan. I have to work; it's my job. So I've been working for the past 20 years, and regardless what happened at Cannes and Oscars, I had been working on two projects before then, I'm continuing to work on them, nothing has changed because of these awards. One is in Korean and one is in English.

(Woo-sik Choi and So-dam Park on the sets of Parasite)

I am so happy for your success. I have a question. In the last months you have been working with your female translator. You've been all over the world working. Are you going to finish this work, are you going to help her? Because I understand that she is a filmmaker. Are you going to miss her, because you've been together for the whole journey?

You already know she's a filmmaker.


And she studied film in the university, yeah, so I'm so curious about her script. Actually, she's -- she's writing some feature-length script, I'm so curious about it.

(The above interivew is courtesy Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the content copyright is owned with Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The interview with Bong Joon Ho was conducted backstage immediately after he won his Oscar for Best Direction for Parasite)


Bong Joon Ho / Parasite / Backstage / 92nd Academy Awards / Oscar Awards / South Korea / Spike Lee

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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