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Bong Joon-ho continues commenting on social issues

Auteur clarifies rumors, shares upcoming plans

Bong Joon-ho speaks during
Bong Joon-ho speaks during "Parasite" press conference held in Westin Chosun Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

After a 10-month journey that kicked off at the Cannes Film Festival last year, the “Parasite” team is back in Seoul -- with four Oscars in tow.

“It’s been almost a year since we held our preview press conference here. ‘Parasite’ has been around the globe with such strong vitality and we’re glad that we can be back here after all that. It feels very strange,” director Bong Joon-ho said during the film’s final official press conference held at the Westin Chosun in Seoul.

“Parasite” producer Kwak Sin-ae, writer Han Jin-won, editor Yang Jin-mo, production designer Lee Ha-jun and cast members Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-gyun, Park So-dam, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jang Hye-jin, Park Myeong-hoon and Lee Jeong-eun joined Bong at the media event, where they recalled their experiences leading up to the Oscars. The publicity campaign was led by the film’s North American distributor Neon, local distributor CJ Entertainment and producer Barunson E&A.

“Compared to big studios like Netflix, we had to work much harder with much less budget than them. We had more than 600 interviews and more than 100 sessions with the audience,” Bong said, adding that Song Kang-ho even got a nosebleed from exhaustion while accompanying the director for six months.

“There were moments when I wondered why directors made time and why studios would put in such big amounts to do campaigns, but I realized this is a process to verify the films in depth,” he added.

“Having the time to watch films and discuss them with other artists for six months, I realized it was a time to learn how many great others there are. It was not a process to win an award, but to communicate and harmonize with other cineastes from around the world about what we share,” Bong said.

Director Bong also clarified that he did not mean to demean the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences community with the “local” comment he made during an interview.

“(During the interview) I was comparing how the Cannes, Berlin and Venice film festivals were more international film events, whereas the academy was more US-centered. It was an expression that came out naturally as I tried to make comparisons.” Bong said.

As to why “Parasite” received special recognition compared to his previous works that dealt with similar issues of inequality and class divide, Bong said it was because of the film’s relatable setting.

“While ‘The Host’ and ‘Snowpiercer’ all had elements of science-fiction, ‘Parasite’ doesn’t. And it’s also about the age we are living in. A story that we can witness in our neighborhoods, acted out realistically by our talented ensemble of actors, was what I guess made the film more explosive,” Bong said.

Bong, an acclaimed master of social satire, said he did not expect the film to prove such a success, owing to the movie’s possibly uncomfortable message.

“Although there are hilarious and comic parts to the story, it also overtly reveals the class division and other bitter parts of the modern society, and I had no intention to evade even 1 centimeter from the message because the film is all about that.”

Bong said he is currently preparing two new films, which he has been working on for two years now. During a press conference with Korean media in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, just after his historic four Oscar wins, the director said he was working on a Korean horror film that takes place in the heart of Seoul as well as an English-language film. Both films would be produced on a scale similar to that of “Parasite,” Bong said, indicating they would not be blockbusters or have huge budgets.

Saying he needed some time to rest, Bong stated he was pushed by director Martin Scorsese to make more films.

“Just a few hours before today’s press conference, I received a letter from Scorsese. Although I can’t reveal all the details of the private message, in the last sentence, he told me to take some time off, but only for a short while, because many people, including himself, are waiting for my next work,” Bong said.

The director denied rumors concerning a television adaptation of “Parasite,” which he is currently negotiating with US cable network HBO.

“I and director-writer Adam McKay are currently discussing the very basic issues of the series, such as the direction of the story and its structure,” Bong said.

Bong explained the series adaptation will be in the form of a limited series with a maximum of five to six episodes, delving deeper into the original film’s core theme of widening social inequality. McKay, who previously produced HBO’s “Succession,” and Bong will co-produce the television version.

Meanwhile, the television adaptation of Bong’s “Snowpiercer” is set to start airing in the US on May 31.

Laughing off some of the reports surrounding him, such as attempts to build a statue and preserve the house in Daegu where he was born, the director discussed his thoughts on the Korean film industry.

“Whereas the Korean film industry has seen a dazzling leap over the last 20 years since 1999 when I debuted, at the same time it has become more difficult for young directors to make creative films,” Bong said.

“We remember very clearly how the Hong Kong film industry -- which experienced a huge boom in the 1980s through 1990s -- faced its decline. To not walk the same path, the Korean film industry must not fear risks,” he said.

“The industry must embrace challenging films.”

By Choi Ji-won (