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South Korea, home to some of the most distinctive cinema of the past two decades, has finally succeeded at the Oscar nominations, earning not just one, but six nominations.
As the Academy unveiled its 2020 nominations early Monday, Bong Joon Ho’s acclaimed thriller Parasite scored in the following categories: best film (Bong and Kwak Sin-ae, producers), best director (Bong), original screenplay (Bong and Han Jin-won), film editing (Yang Jin-mo), production design (production design: Lee Ha-jun; set decoration: Cho Won-woo) and best international feature film.
South Korea had never before been nominated in the international category, previously known as the best foreign-language film section. Just last year the country was shortlisted in the category for the very fist time for Lee Chang-dong’s Burning.
Parasite, a richly layered comedy drama, follows a poverty-stricken family running an elaborate con on a wealthy Seoul couple — until horrific, unintended consequences ensue. The film features an ensemble cast led by veteran South Korean leading man Song Kang-ho.
Bong becomes just the second director from Asia — after Ang Lee — to earn a best picture nomination, a rather embarrassing blight on the Academy’s track record given that the continent is home to more than half the world’s population, not to mention filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Wong Kar-Wai, Hayao Miyazaki, Park Chan-Wook and so many others.
To date, no foreign film (as the Academy defines it) has ever won a best picture Oscar, although several have been nominated (including several from Hollywood mainstays, such as Clint Eastwood with Letters From Iwo Jima).
Last awards season, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma appeared well positioned to become the first after earning 10 noms. But Green Book snatched away the best picture prize, keeping the Academy’s parochial streak alive.
Despite being told entirely in Korean, Parasite has been embraced by mainstream U.S. moviegoers as well as critics. To date, the film has earned $24 million in North America, while its worldwide total has climbed to $131 million. Describing Parasite as “morally complex social realism,” THR‘s critic said the film “packs a timely punch that will resonate in our financially tough, politically polarized time.”
Earlier this month, Parasite went home with the trophy for best foreign-language film at the Golden Globes, where it also was nominated in the best director and best screenplay categories (It did not qualify for the best picture honor, since the Globes stipulate that contenders must feature “more than 50 percent English dialogue”).
“This idea of a poor family infiltrating the lives of a rich one is where I first delved in,” Bong told THR in an interview about his development of the film’s themes. “It was more like putting these characters together in a very controlled environment and then watching the chemical reactions unfold.”
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