When the affable South Korean director Bong Joon-ho won the Oscar for Best International Feature for ‘Parasite’ early on awards night, he noted that he was happy to be the first recipient under the new name in a category that until this year used to be called Best Foreign Language Film.
Only Bong didn’t know the evening was going to one of many firsts for his dark comedy, which has been on a winning spree ever since it was won the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May last year.
‘Parasite’ also became the first ever non-English film to ever win a Best Picture Oscar, the first South Korean film to win an Oscar and the first Asian film ever to win an Oscar for original screenplay.
While the world will now know director Bong, for many of film lovers, he’s a recognised name, someone who has been steadily building a cult following over the last 20 years.
Known for his brand of socially conscious movies often sprinkled generously with fairy tale elements, my first introduction to Bong’s talent was with the masterful 2007 monster film ‘The Host’.
The film, about a mutant fish which goes on a rampage across Seoul, was a searing call for attention to environmental pollution. But in Bong’s hand, it was also a monster feature, a film about family ties and a political satire all rolled into one.
Effectively told with beautiful performances (also starring Song Kang-ho, who features in ‘Parasite’), the film rates high in one of my favourite movies of all time.
Netflix was quick to notice Bong’s talent, funding his dreamy and heartbreaking film ‘Okja’ in 2017. For this project — about a young farm girl and her beloved piglet caught in a web of genetic engineering, mass consumption and capitalism – Bong paired up again with Tilda Swinton who starred in his first English language film ‘Snowpiercer’ in 2013.
One of Bong’s best works, however, is the 2009 film ‘Mother’, about a women whose mentally challenged son is accused of killing a schoolgirl. The film also won an award at the Dubai International Film Festival that year.
‘Parasite’, no doubt is the film that that will truly take Bong global. And it couldn’t have been a more fitting one with its universal theme about the widening gap between rich and poor. A perfect example of the unifying power of films.