South Koreans have reacted with joy and disbelief to the historic best picture Oscar for Parasite, good news that came as their country struggles to guard against a new virus and counter North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Director Bong Joon-ho’s movie – about the widening gap between rich and poor – became the first non-English-language film to win Hollywood’s biggest prize, prompting celebrations in South Korea.
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Parasite won the Oscar for best picture and three other awards including best director, with one film fan suggesting the feat should be recognised with a public holiday.
The movie’s wins made history in both the Hollywood and South Korean film industries. The class satire is the first non-English-language film to win the best picture in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards, and is the first South Korean movie to ever win an Oscar.
“Can you believe that ‘Parasite’ won the Academy best picture?” South Korea’s biggest newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, said in a headline on Monday. “It rewrote the Academy’s 92-year-old history.”
Bong, Parasite and other Oscar-related news dominated search terms throughout Monday at major internet portals, which had been preoccupied with the outbreak of a virus in China that has killed more than 900 people and sickened tens of thousands of others, mainly in China.
Worries about the virus have been growing in South Korea, where 27 cases have been reported, though no deaths have occurred. Sales at tour agencies, restaurants, movie theatres and department stores have sharply declined, raising worries about the impact on South Korea’s already-lagging economy. Opposition parties are accusing the government of ineffectiveness in coping with the outbreak.
But the concerns about the virus and political warfare paused Monday to celebrate Bong’s wins.
“It’s happy news, like welcome rain, to the Republic of Korea, which is depressed, stagnant and thrown into despair due to Wuhan pneumonia,” the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said in a statement. Wuhan is the Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak.
South Korean social media were overwhelmed with congratulatory messages.
President Moon Jae-in tweeted that he was proud of Bong and his collaborators and “particularly grateful to them for giving courage and pride to our people who are overcoming difficulties”.
Moon and his advisers began a regularly scheduled meeting by clapping their hands to celebrate Bong’s wins.
— The Office of President Moon Jae-in (@TheBlueHouseENG) February 10, 2020
At Bong’s alma mater, Seoul’s Yonsei University, students belonging to a school movie club watched the Academy Award ceremony together.
“It’s deeply meaningful for Korean movies and this will open the path for further development. It’s such a great honour. I’m speechless,” said Kim Nam-hoon, 21.
Jeong Ho-cheol, a 26-year-old student, praised Bong for pleasing both movie critics and crowds. “His way of dealing with the underside of Korean society and problems such as rich-poor gaps and the way he expresses those issues are very expressive,” he said.
Actor Sandra Oh, the Canadian-born daughter of South Korean immigrants who was among the award presenters in Los Angeles, tweeted her congratulations, saying: “So so proud to be Korean.”
South Korean filmmaker and scholar Kim So-young, who introduced Bong’s early comedy “Barking Dogs Never Bite” to programmers at the San Sebastian Film Festival back in 2000, said the win was “well deserved”.
“I’ve been following his work for the last 20 years, and I can confidently say he is a true artist,” she told AFP news agency.
Bong and the cast also received plaudits from K-pop superstars BTS, who tweeted their congratulations.
V, a member of BTS, is close friends with Parasite actor Choi Woo-shik.