LOS ANGELES — Writer-director Bong Joon Ho made Oscar history Sunday night, capturing Oscars for best director and best international feature with his dark comic thriller, “Parasite,” the first South Korean film to win an Academy Award in any category.
In capturing the best director Oscar, Bong beat out a cast of previous winners and film legends that included Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Sam Mendes, and he paid tribute to all of them in his acceptance speech.
“When I was in school I studied Martin Scorsese’s films. Just to be honored was a huge honor. I never thought I would win,” he said. “When people in the U.S. were not familiar with my films, Quentin always put my films on his list.”
He also praised fellow nominees Sam Mendes and Todd Phillips as “great directors” he admires, adding he wished he could take a “Texas chain saw” and cut the Oscar into five pieces so all the nominees could share it.
The category featured two previous winners in Scorsese and Mendes and a previous two-time nominee in Tarantino. This year’s nomination was Scorsese’s ninth.
In addition to his director Oscar, Bong also shared the best original screenplay award with his “Parasite” co-writer Han Jin Won, while “Parasite” won the award for best picture.
“To win just one award would have been a huge celebration,” speaking in Korean, he told reporters backstage, adding that taking four was such a surreal experience that he feared he might wake up and discover it never happened.
Then, switching to English, he added an expletive as he said, “It’s … crazy,” to raucous laughter and applause.
The best director category was not only one of the most competitive this year but also one of the most highly criticized for the fact that no women were nominated, including previous nominee Greta Gerwig, whose film “Little Women” was up for best picture. Gerwig herself received a nomination for best adapted screenplay.
Also snubbed was Marielle Heller, whose “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” garnered Tom Hanks a supporting actor nomination.
Only five women have been nominated for best director in the Oscars’ 92-year history and only one, Kathryn Bigelow, has won, for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker.”
“Parasite’s” sweep was groundbreaking, however, in that no South Korean film had previously won an Oscar in any category.
Bong said he believes more international films could win top honors in the future, however, now that streaming services like Netflix have made movie watching a global experience.
“This film was voted by the members of the academy, and I know that that was signaling a different change for international cinema, not just Korea, “he said.
“Parasite,” a critical and commercial success, features a cast largely unknown in the West. It tells the story of how an unemployed family of four living in a slum basement apartment comically con their way into the lives of one of Seoul’s wealthiest families before things begin to unravel darkly.
A favorite with critics, “Parasite” won the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or last year.
It was up against four other strong films, including Scorsese’s three-hour-plus epic, “The Irishman,” which starred Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in a tale about the still-unsolved mob murder of union boss Jimmy Hoffa.
Also nominated was Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood,” that paired Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a fading movie star (DiCaprio) and his loyal companion and stuntman in Pitt. It brought Pitt his first Academy Award.
Mendes’ “1917,” with its arresting visual effects, told the story of two World War I British soldiers given the seemingly suicidal mission of crossing from France to Germany to warn their comrades of a sneak attack that would kill more than a thousand.
Phillips “The Joker” added a new twist to comic book hero Batman’s nemesis, portraying him not as inherently evil but as a tortured soul driven to madness by bullying. It won star Joaquin Phoenix a best actor Oscar.