How Cannes winner ’Parasite’ made history to win the best picture Oscar

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Parasite’s trail-blazing best picture win for a foreign language film was one of four Oscars as the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony became a procession for the South Korean phenomenon.

Bong Joon Ho’s remarkable ride started last May with the Palme d’or triumph, picked up critical and festival kudos in South Korea,  London, Toronto and Australia, and gathered steam through the US awards season with wins from Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, Baftas, Golden Globes, and National Board of Review.

It all came to a fairy tale ending at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday. The film’s North American distributor Neon must take the plaudits. Tom Quinn had worked with Bong on four of his previous films and Quinn boarded the film at script stage, before its Cannes 2019 world premiere. The Neon team staged a beguiling release campaign that intrigued all who saw it. Neon tirelessly kept the film at the forefront of people’s minds as a must-see cultural event.

Parasite had been expected to win the renamed best international feature film category and it duly did. However before that happened, Bong and Han Jin-won had already taken to the stage to claim the original screenplay award.

Once that happened, there was the sense that this might become a very special night for the dark comedy with a pointed message about the class divide. Bong’s genuine surprise and gracious acceptance speech after he was named best director brought smiles to the faces of category favourite Sam Mendes (1917) – a winner recently at the Directors Guild of America awards – and other nominees.

“After winning Best International Feature, I thought I was done for the day and was ready to relax,” said Bong, accepting the directing award. “Thank you so much. When I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is, ‘the most personal is the most creative.’ That quote was from our great Martin Scorsese. When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese’s films. Just to be nominated was a huge honour; I never thought I would win. When people in the US were not familiar with my film, Quentin [Tarantino] always put my films on his list. He is here, thank you so much. Quentin, I love you.

“And Todd [Phillips] and Sam [Mendes], great directors that I admire. If the Academy allows, I would like to get a Texas chainsaw, split the Oscar trophy into five and share it with all of you. Thank you, I will drink until next morning.”

Parasite had won the ensemble cast award at the Screen Actors Guild, the body’s best picture equivalent, and given the large number of actors who comprise the Academy’s voting ranks, that guild win had suggested there could be an upset. 1917 had gathered momentum in recent weeks with Golden Globe and Bafta wins and was regarded as the one to beat.

By the time Jane Fonda strode on to the stage to announce the best picture winner, the audience believed Parasite could do it. The decision had already been made of course when members of the Academy cast their final ballots via the preferential vote for the best picture category, but the sense of possibility in the Dolby Theatre was palpable.

Besides its fans, the film has captured the imagination of professionals within the film and TV community – HBO is in talks to make a limited series version of the story. 

It has scorched a path at the box office, too, earning more than $165m worldwide. Some $129m of that comes from international territories via CJ Entertainment, while Neon has helped the film generate more than $35m in North America.

  • Oscars 2020: South Korea’s ’Parasite’ becomes first foreign-language film to win best picture

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