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Bong Joon Ho Defeats Sam Mendes to Win Best Director Oscar in Nail-Biting Race

Bong's unprecedented win is the latest in a history-making night for South Korea's "Parasite."

Bong Joon-Ho - Director and Best Picture - Parasite92nd Annual Academy Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Feb 2020

Bong Joon Ho

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Ending a nail-biting derby pitting Bong Joon Ho against Sam Mendes for Best Director, the South Korean filmmaker took home the Academy Award on Sunday night for his direction on “Parasite.” While all signs throughout awards season had pointed to Mendes taking home the gold — including wins from the EE BAFTAs, the Directors Guild of America, and the Golden Globes — the love for “Parasite” overpowered the “1917” narrative. Bong’s win for Best Director adds to an already unprecedented set of wins for the film — three in total — which include Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature. These are all firsts for a Korean-language film.

Along with “1917” filmmaker Mendes, Bong also beat out Todd Phillips for “Joker,” Martin Scorsese for “The Irishman,” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” All of those films are up for Best Picture as well, but that race at this point is between “1917” and “Parasite,” barring a last-minute upset.

“Parasite” has been the darling of critics and audiences since it won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival back in May 2019 — also the first South Korean film ever to do so. Neon opened the film in October, and the film has already grossed $33 million in the United States and counting. Around the world, the film’s box-office total exceeds $165 million, and as the movie is still in theaters (and also now available to stream), that number is only going to climb. After Oscar wins and record box office, though, the movie’s legacy doesn’t end here, as it was announced recently that Bong and Adam McKay will partner with HBO to adapt the film into a limited series. Plans are set to begin taking shape in March on what that series will look like.

The awards season haul for “Parasite” has heretofore included more than 200 wins, including: the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture in a Foreign Language, the EE BAFTA Awards for Best Film Not in the English Language and Best Original Screenplay, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, the Broadcast Film Critics Choice Awards for Best Director (tied with Sam Mendes for “1917”) and Best Foreign Language Film, the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Film, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor (Song Kang-ho), and many, many more.

Bong Joon Ho’s prior credits include arthouse favorites “Okja,” “Snowpiercer,” “Mother,” “The Host,” “Memories of Murder,” and “Barking Dogs Never Bite.” With “Parasite” awards-season chores now out of the way, he will turn his attention to the HBO version of the film. It remains to be seen whether the next iteration of “Parasite” will unfold in English or Korean, but Bong recently did offer a tease of his thoughts on what’s to come for the limited series adaptation.

“I really liked Adam McKay’s ‘The Big Short’ and I loved his sense of humor, and the sharp satire he conveyed about the current American politics,” Bong said of his creative partner on the series. “With ‘Parasite,’ while I was writing the script I had so many more ideas I couldn’t convey into the two-hour running time of the film. I knew that if I had a longer running time, I would be able to tell these stories, and I that’s what I plan to talk about with Adam pretty soon.”

“Though I’m not very familiar with the TV industry, I really consider this limited series an expanded film that can delve deeper into the stories that didn’t make it into ‘Parasite.’ Adam McKay and HBO have created the amazing show ‘Succession,’ so they’re very reliable and amazing partners to have,” Bong said. He also cited Ingmar Bergman’s 1982 miniseries “Fanny and Alexander” as a potential influence.

Despite his success on the heels of “Parasite,” however, Bong Joon Ho told IndieWire he has no plans to sell out and direct a tentpole or, say, foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “I received a lot of [Hollywood] offers after ‘The Host’ in 2006,” Bong said. “Lots of science-fiction, horror, and action films. I was just like, ‘Wow, a Hollywood script!’ I didn’t accept any of them. My agent is a very nice guy and they already know that I like to direct my own scripts like Quentin Tarantino. Sometimes I do get a little disappointed that he doesn’t send me anything. He doesn’t send me any scripts now knowing that I always write my own.”

Follow all of IndieWire’s 2020 Academy Awards coverage here, and see the full list of tonight’s winners here.

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