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The hit film from South Korea "Parasite" has added three Golden Globe nominations to its growing list of accolades. The movie's director, Bong Joon-ho, is a rising star, and NPR's Neda Ulaby recently had a chance to sit down and talk with him about what this year, marking a hundred years of Korean filmmaking, means.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: I caught director Bong Joon-ho at the end of a hectic publicity push. This must have been his hundredth interview in a week, he said. And he and his interpreter, Sharon Choi, were a little slaphappy.
BONG JOON-HO: (Speaking Korean).
SHARON CHOI: So with this interview, he wants to try not using any of the words he's been using so far.
ULABY: Words director Bong is officially tired of includes...
CHOI: (Laughter) Class...
BONG: Class warfare, very first idea and next project - and (laughter).
ULABY: Director Bong may also be getting tired of the word Oscar. It's widely speculated that "Parasite" could be the first-ever foreign language film to win best picture at the Academy Awards.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PARASITE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking Korean).
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Korean).
ULABY: This story about a rich family and a poor one sharing a house is already the year's highest-grossing foreign language film. It's enraptured audiences partly for the actors' shining performances.
BONG: I set them free.
ULABY: Director Bong Joon-ho says his style has everything to do with his predecessors.
BONG: (Through interpreter) Now we've reached the hundredth year of Korean cinema, and I hope people will discover that Korean cinema has also had a lot of masters.
ULABY: Like who?
BONG: So many - 200, 300 at least. (Through interpreter) but I will introduce two films that are very accessible and easy to watch.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BONG: ...By Kim Ki-young, the 1960s master.
ULABY: "The Housemaid" came out in 1960. It remains hugely influential. Director Bong Joon-ho says the story is...
BONG: Something similar to the "Parasite."
ULABY: If you've seen "Parasite," you may recognize the story of an upwardly mobile family with an interloper in the form of the family maid.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HANDMAID")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, speaking Korean).
ULABY: Grady Hendrix has seen lots of Korean movies. He co-founded the New York Asian Film Festival.
GRADY HENDRIX: And she's this disruptive influence who's poisoning people with rat poison and having an affair with the husband and killing the kids. And it's this real Gothic nightmare. And that spawned several remakes. It was a big hit at the time. It's an enormously influential Korean movie.
ULABY: And helped establish a genre to which "Parasite" belongs.
HENDRIX: This sort of drama of domestic Gothic.
ULABY: Scheming maids, people locked in basements or bloody birthday parties may reflect the anxieties of a country where families remain divided across borders and class mobility is relatively new. Still, says Grady Hendrix, those fears are hardly limited to South Korea.
HENDRIX: It's this real sense that the ice is very, very thin and the raft of money you've built could go under at any moment.
ULABY: Which brings us to Director Bong Joon-ho's second film recommendation.
BONG: "The Secret Sunshine" (ph) by Lee Chang-dong.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SECRET SUNSHINE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character, speaking Korean).
ULABY: "Secret Sunshine" from 2007 stars two of the main actors in "Parasite." It's about a widow's grief. And like "Parasite," there's a shocking twist. All these movies face the fragility of what we'd call here the American dream, says Grady Hendrix, and perhaps that's propelled "Parasite's" success worldwide.
HENDRIX: And if the movie has a thesis statement that's stated over and over throughout with all the subtlety of a concrete block being dropped on your head, it is that life laughs at your plans. Poor people shouldn't dream of being rich because you won't get there; rich people shouldn't dream of safe because you aren't safe.
ULABY: Still, director Bong Joon-ho says "Parasite" was intended to be bittersweet.
BONG: (Through interpreter) So I don't want to think that, as a person or as a creator, I've become pessimistic about the world. But with "Parasite," I really wanted to be honest. I didn't want to spread random hope to the audience. I really wanted to reflect the truth of our current times, and I think the ending of this film really reflects that as well.
ULABY: And reflect them with a domestic Gothic drama for the world.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
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