- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2020

The South Korean class-conflict dramedy “Parasite” scored a stunning and historic upset at Sunday night’s Oscars, becoming the first wholly foreign-language film to take the Best Picture award.

In another sign of the increasingly global nature of the movie industry, the film about two Korean families by writer-director Bong Joon-ho took four prizes on the night, including the ceremony’s two biggest — best film and best director.

Producer Kwak Sin-ae said she was “speechless” as she accepted the best-film award.


“We never imagined this to ever happen. We are so happy,” she said in Korean through a translator who got considerable work during the evening. “I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now.”

As the all-Korean entourage stood onstage, the house lights suddenly went down, causing chants of “up, up, up” to reverberate through the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.

As he accepted the prize for best director, Mr. Bong said that when he was a film student in South Korea, his motto was “the most personal is the most creative.”

Shifting from Korean into English, he said the motto “comes from the great Martin Scorsese,” who was nominated in the same category for “The Irishman.” Mr. Bong added that he studied the American master’s films in school and “just to be nominated” alongside him is “a huge honor. I never thought I would win.”

Mr. Bong led the audience in a standing ovation for Mr. Scorsese.

He also told best-director nominee Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”) that “I love you” for regularly championing his films when he was an unknown director in South Korea.

It was the second year in a row the best-director prize went to a foreign-language movie, following Alfonso Cuaron’s victory for the Mexican film “Roma.”

None of the previous 31 such nominees stretching back almost 60 years had won.

In the satire-thriller rich in plot surprises, members of the poor Kim family worm their way into the home of the rich Park family using a variety of unscrupulous means only to find … more than they bargained for, building to a gory climax.

Earlier in the evening, when accepting the first best-script award ever given to an Asian film, Mr. Bong dedicated his first prize of the night to his homeland, perhaps expecting not to be giving too many speeches.

“This is very personal to South Korea. Thank you,” he said, calling it a “great honor” as he switched between English and Korean.

Overall, the film was nominated in six categories, winning best film, best international film, best original script and best director. However, it did not win its other nominations, for production design or editing.

When accepting the best international film award, which was renamed this year from “best foreign-language film,” Mr. Bong noted that “the category has a new name now … I’m so happy to be the first recipient under the new name.”

“I applaud and support the new direction this change symbolizes,” he said of what was not only South Korea’s first win in that category, but also its first nomination.

“Parasite” was the 12th foreign-language film to be nominated for best picture, the previous nominees including such important and historic films as Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion” and Ingmar Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers.”

When accepting the Golden Globe for best foreign film last month, Mr. Bong asked the American audience to overcome its legendary aversion to subtitles.

“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” he said.

In a reversal of Sunday night, Mr. Bong was years ago involved in a dispute in which he and other film-makers forced the South Korean government to back away from its proposed cuts to film subsidies and screening quotas.

Those protections have let the small country keep a viable film industry without being overwhelmed too much by the Hollywood behemoth.

Actress Lee Jung-eun, who plays the rich family’s original maid and who also spoke after the best-film victory, thanked her home country’s film buffs.

“I really want to thank our Korean film audience,” she said in English. They “never hesitate to give us straightforward opinions” that force film artists to “keep pushing the envelope. Without you, the Korean film audience, we are not here.”

While “Parasite” is the first totally foreign film to win best picture, three borderline cases have taken the big prize.

“The Artist” is a French movie in every important respect, but is a silent film with a score and English intertitles but no French dialogue.

The lengthy flashbacks in “The Godfather, Part II” to Vito Corleone’s early years in New York’s Little Italy, which are entirely in Italian, take up around one-quarter of the running time. But despite that, the American-made film is mostly in English, and Italy would not have been allowed to submit it for best foreign film if it had tried.

And while “Slumdog Millionaire” was set in India and Hindi conversations and lines are frequently interwoven, it was a British production with most of the dialogue in English. Indeed, the film did much more business in India under a Hindi-dubbed version with a translated title.

“Parasite,” on the other hand, is in every meaningful sense a Korean movie from top to bottom.

Mr. Bong has been a favorite of festival and art-house audiences for close to two decades, thanks to such Korean films as “Mother,” “The Host” and “Memories of Murder” and the English-language “Snowpiercer” from 2013, starring “Captain America” Chris Evans.

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