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Bong Joon-ho Reacts to Historic Palme D’or Win, Denies ‘Parasite’ Mocks North Korea

One scene in "Parasite" features a character mocking a North Korean television presenter, but Bong says not to look too much into it.

Bong Joon-ho poses with his Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) for the movie 'Parasite' during the Award Winners photocall at the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival, in Cannes, France, 25 May 2019.Award Winners Photocall - 72nd Cannes Film Festival, France - 25 May 2019

Bong Joon-ho

IAN LANGSDON/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Bong Joon-ho’s first stop after winning the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival was a press conference in which the moderator informed the press in attendance that Bong’s victory was a historic first for a South Korean director. Bong said the prize was extra special in 2019 as this year marks the 100 year anniversary of cinema in Korea. The director said he was “surprised” and “so very pleased” to win the Palme, and he hoped that a historic victory would encourage moviegoers around the world to invest time in South Korean cinema as a whole.

“In 2006 I went to see a retrospective on Kim Ki-young. I went to the French cinema library to see that and was surprised to see French spectators really liked his films and that made a big impression on me,” Bong said. “I got the Palme today in Cannes but I’m not the only Korean director who could receive that award.”

Bong continued, “There’s a lot of Korean talent that could win the Palme. I would like to do more retrospectives around the world featuring great Korean directors. Maybe today this will help me move forward in this direction. It’s an opportunity for people to learn more about Korean cinema around the world.”

Kim Ki-young was one of Bong’s greatest influences while making “Parasite,” his seventh feature film and second Cannes contender after 2017’s “Okja.” Bong told press he was most inspired by Alfred Hitchcock movies and Kim’s 1960 crime drama “The Housemaid.” This year’s Cannes jury, headed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, awarded “Parasite” the Palme d’Or in a unanimous vote.

One member of the press asked Bong if his film makes fun of North Korea, referencing a scene in which a housekeeper mocks North Korean television personalities. Bong denied his movie takes jabs at North Korea, saying, “You shouldn’t construe that scene as a serious message that refers to North Korea. Quite the contrary, it’s just a joke.”

Another part of the film shows a bunker on the property of a rich South Korean family. Some have already said the bunker is Bong’s way of referring to a possible North Korean nuclear attack, but Bong stressed again it was more of a joke and less of a pointed criticism.

“There are a lot of comics in South Korea who make sketches on these topics and it’s something that’s very common in South Korea…I think if North Koreans watch my film one day they will laugh to see this joke in the film.”

Neon is handling U.S. distribution for “Parasite” later this fall.

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