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Korea Blog: With “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho Comes Back to Attack His Homeland — and Wins it a Palme d’Or

When a Korean wins a major international award, that award tends to be seen here in Korea as having been won for, or even by, the nation itself. Olympic gold medals, if not silver or bronze, have long mattered a great deal. Anticipation for another Nobel has run high since former president Kim Dae-jung’s Peace Price in 2000. The 2016 Man Booker International Prize went to novelist Han Kang and her English translator Deborah Smith for The Vegetarian, but in the eyes of much of the press here, the validating honor also went to Korean literature itself.  Over the past decade or two, Korean film has enjoyed a higher global profile than many other products of Korean culture, but no Korean filmmaker had ever come back from Cannes with a Palme d’Or. Or rather, none ever had until last week, when Korea — or rather, Bong Joon-ho — won it with Parasite (기생충).

Cinephiles may wonder what took the Cannes jury so long to bestow the Palme d’Or upon a Korean film, given the astuteness the festival has shown in regard to Asian cinema in general: they gave one to Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives in 2010 and have given five to Japanese pictures over the past 65 years, most recently Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Shoplifters in 2018. That film, about a poor but cheerful quasi-family clinging to the margins of modern Japanese society through a life of small-time crime, has more than a little in common with Parasite, which tells the story of a father, mother, son, and daughter living by their wits in the closest thing to a Seoul slum a mainstream movie has dared portray. Earning a meager income by folding cardboard pizza boxes, the Kim family may not have to shoplift — not regularly, at least — but they do have to live by their wits, seizing upon any and all minor opportunities that present themselves just as they do the unprotected wi-fi signals that reach the corners of their run-down basement apartment.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.