When South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho went up last Sunday to collect the Oscar for Best Directing by Paras, he remembered the maxim, attributed to his admired Martin Scorsese, who has taken him to where he is: "The most personal is the most creative." Becoming one of the men of the moment, his confession triggered an obvious question: How much of staff is there in the film for which the filmmaker, a stranger until recently to many, has made history?
He gave some clues after the projection of Parasites in London long ago. As Bong said, the film, which chronicles the arguments with which a humble South Korean family—the Kims—end up employed in the sophisticated home of another wealthy man—the Parkes—is partly inspired by real events. "When I was young, my girlfriend taught English to a boy from a wealthy family who needed a math tutor, so he introduced me to hire me," he told the audience,
his girlfriend recommended him without revealing their romantic relationship, and Bong, who last September turned 50, then pretended to be a shower in mathematics to hire him, similar to how the Kims sneak into the Park's house. "I got fired after two months," he confessed funnyly. "That bride, on the other hand, is now my wife, " she triumphantly recalled. This is the screenwriter Jung Sun-yong, who she met at a film club when he was studying Sociology at the prestigious Yonsei University in Seoul. The couple married in 1995, the year Bong graduated, and since then Jung is the first to read the filmmaker's scripts. A moment of "maximum anxiety" for Bong, as he has confessed, who does not rest until his wife gives him the blessing. The importance of family cohesion, which is very palpable in the plot of Parasites, is completed in real life by the couple's son, Hyo-min, who in 2017 directed the film online Wedding Ceremony.
If the family is key to Paras, awarded with four Oscars (best film, best direction, best international film and best original screenplay), class affairs are a constant in much of Bong's filmography. Unlike the poverty that drowns the Kims or the abundance in which the Park swims, the filmmaker comes from a middle-class family, from which he observed inquisitive social differences.
The youngest of four children, he was born in Daegu, the fourth largest city in South Korea, and moved to the capital, Seoul, with his family, while still studying elementary school. His father, Bong Sang-gyun, was a graphic designer, and his mother, Park So-young, a housewife. Artistic blood ran through his veins from the previous generation, being his grandfather, Park Taewon, a reputed novelist during the Japanese invasion (1910-1945) who defected to Soviet North Korea in 1950.
Bong himself declared himself in the past akin to now-defunct South Korean leftist parties and was assiduous to demonstrations and protests during his college years. Her rebellious and passionate side, also notable in her films, has left a good anecdote: from her temporary vegetarianism to filming Okja in 2017 – a satire of the meat industry that tells the story of a girl in charge of raising a superpork – to her famous encounter with Harvey Weinstein for Snowrpierce (2013).
Weinstein, who produced the sci-fi film, was hell-bent on eliminating a scene, which Bong opposed. After months of tug-of-war, the South Korean persuaded the still-powerful producer that the scene of discord was a kind of homage to his father, which eventually softened Weinstein. "It was a gross lie," Bong later confessed, unleashing the American's wrath,
A freshness, between blaming and endearing, which he has also shown in his most recent appearances. The only sentence he uttered in English when he collected his Oscar as best director—the rest he said in Korean—was, "And now, I'm going to drink all night." Similarly, he eagerly swered the eight minutes of applause at the Cannes Film Festival, where Parasites took the Palme d'Or. "Let's go home, " exhorted the audience. "We wanted to go to dinner, it was midnight!" he clarified with guasa later on Jimmy Fallon's show,
Because Bong, a big 1.82 meters assiduous to dark garments and to wear a fussy mane, doesn't seem to have much interest in Hollywood glamour. For the director of films such as Memories of Murder (2003) or The Host (2006), with which he became known internationally, the secret to his success is "maintaining a simple lifestyle". "Drinking coffee, writing and trying not to see a lot of people," he said in an interview with The Telegraph.
Isolation that, having made history at the Oscars on several fronts, including directing the first non-English film that receives the statuette for the best film, can be difficult for him. Though perhaps Bong, the last breath of fresh air in Hollywood, will find his method. If his cinema is said to be genderless, Bong has proven to be, for the moment, unique in its kind,