On February 10, in commemoration of “Parasite” taking home four wins at the 92nd Academy Awards, MBC re-aired a special episode on director Bong Joon Ho, where he talked about his beginnings as a director.
He said, “I saw a lot of foreign films that they’d air on television. I was obsessed with them. On Friday nights, the American military channel aired a lot of erotic or violent films. And on the weekends, I watched all the classics [that were aired on TV].”
“I wanted to learn about movies, so I studied a lot. I would watch the same movie tens of times and study it.”
The director said that when he was in a movie club in school, he sold donuts at the school store for six months so he could buy a camera. He said, “I remember holding that camera while I slept.”
In 1994, Bong Joon Ho created the film “White Man.” The director said, “I had no experience, so there were no actors who knew me. One of my friends joined a company called Yeon Woo Stage. That friend introduced me to an actor named Kim Roe Ha. For his appearance fee, all I gave him was a gift card for a button-up shirt.” Actor Kim Roe Ha, who also appeared on the MBC special, said, “That’s right. I bought a shirt with the gift card. I’m surprised he remembers.”
Bong Joon Ho then entered the Korean Academy of Film Arts and submitted the short film “Incoherence” as his graduation project. Director Park Chan Wook, who saw the graduation project, said, “I first found out about director Bong Joon Ho through his graduation film. It was a film called ‘Incoherence,’ which depicted the hypocrisy of society’s leadership. It was so fresh, off-the-wall, and creative, and it surprised me. I had never seen such an amazing short film from Korea before. So I immediately asked who made the film, and I called him.”
Bong Joon Ho said, “Director Park Chan Wook contacted me to put me in charge of the scenario for a new film. I was just about to graduate, and I was amazed. I was happy that I got work before I even graduated.” However, Bong Joon Ho was unable to get investors for the film. He said, “I started working part time. I shot wedding films. There are going to be people that still have the footage that I shot for them. I filmed really well. If the parents cried, I did a closeup, and if there was someone who looked like the groom’s ex-girlfriend, I did a closeup on them, too.”
The director then became an assistant director for the film “Motel Cactus” and later released “Barking Dogs Never Bite” as his first commercial film, although it didn’t do well in the box office.
Bong Joon Ho later saw huge success with his 2003 film “Memories of Murder,” garnering over 5 million moviegoers. He said, “I married in 1995, and from then until ‘Memories of Murder’ in 2003, it was incredibly difficult. It was so bad that a college classmate would give me rice.”
“Memories of Murder” (2003)
When asked if he ever thought about giving up film-making, he said, “Towards the end, I came close. I think it was in 1998 when I had a discussion with my wife. I said, ‘Just give me one more year. I have some money saved up, so it will do for one year.’ So for that year, I went all in on movies with the mindset that I was going to go for it even if it ended in failure.”
After “Memories of Murder” in 2003, director Bong Joon Ho went on to film the hit movies “The Host” (2003), “Mother” (2009), “Snowpiercer” (2013), “Okja” (2017), and “Parasite,” which made history at the 92nd Academy Awards as the first non-English language film to win Best Picture and the first Korean film to ever win an Academy Award.
The MBC special aired a part of the director’s press conference after the Academy Awards, where the director, asked to hold two of the trophies, joked, “Doesn’t this look greedy?”
He said, “For Best Picture, it was my fourth time going on stage, so I felt a little awkward, and I wanted other people to have the chance to talk, so I stayed off to the side.”
“For this past month and a half of awards season, I’ve been to so many award ceremonies, and I think I’ve given 20, maybe 30 speeches. Now, at the end, my speech bank ran empty, and it reached the situation where I even started talking about alcohol.”
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