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PICK: A History of Challenge – The Korean Films That Approached The Oscars Before ‘Parasite’

Edited by Hwang Hong Sun

Translated by Jeon Gyeong Ju

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Credit: Neon’s Official Twitter

Parasite is the first Korean film to be nominated for the Oscars. It has been nominated for the six major categories of the 92nd Academy Awards― the Best Picture, the Best Director, the Best Film Editing, the Best Original Screenplay, the Best Production Design as well as the Best International Feature Film (known as the Best Foreign Language Film until 2019). After an announcement of the all nominees, foreign media warmly praised the movie saying, “The Korean film industry has been hardly related to the Oscars, but it is now writing a new history through Parasite”. Meanwhile, In the Absence, a non-fiction film dealing with the Sewol ferry disaster, has also been nominated for the Best Documentary Short Subject category, drawing more attention than ever to the results of the Oscars.

The Korean film industry first submitted Mother And A Guest in 1963, the classic romance directed by Shin Sang Ok, for a nominee and constantly tapped for the Academy. Yet NO Korean piece was ever shortlisted for the Oscars prior to Parasite, even though the other Korean films were occasionally awarded in the three largest international film festivals― Cannes, Berlin and Venice. Despite of this misfortune, all the challenges of the Korean films to the Oscars were not meaningless. Some films were well-received and highly expected to the end, while the others entered to the preliminary candidates for the awards. Let’s take a look at the past Korean films that had chances of being first nominated for the Oscars, not finally being shortlisted but paving the road for the next challengers.

 

Oldboy

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Credit: SHOW EAST & CJ Entertainment

In 2004, Oldboy was invited to the Competition section at the 57th Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Prix (the second prize at Cannes) for the first time in Korean film history. Director Park Chan Wook was widely introduced to the worldwide movie industries thanks to his performance, and Oldboy had technically been the most famous Korean film in the world before Parasite was released. Many of the film industry then naturally expected that Oldboy would get submitted as the Korean representative for the Best Foreign Language Film of the Oscars.

Before looking back the final result, we should learn briefly about the process of submitting and nominating the entries for the Best International Feature Film (the former Best Foreign Language Film category). On the second half of every year (from August to October), any Korean films released on the cinemas within the current year are able to get applied for the entry to the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). KOFIC judges these applications to choose the final winner and submits it to the Academy. Then the Academy announces its preliminary candidates (nine to ten pieces are selected from the entries) and determines the shortlists through a vote of the Academy members.

Unfortunately, the production studio of Oldboy missed the deadline for the entry KOFIC had informed. The studio realized the situation too late and entered Oldboy for the entry, but TaeGukGi: Brotherhood Of War was eventually chosen as the final Koren representative for the Best Foreign Language Film of the 77th Academy Awards. It was a too great pity, considering the global reviews and perceptions Oldboy received. Therefore, the Korean movie industry had to self-examine to prepare for its own representative for the Best Foreign Language Film of the Academy through far more systematic and precise process.

 

Mother & Okja

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Credit: CJ Entertainment

Mother might have been a dark horse if its director Bong Joon Ho had made it to the Academy. In 2009, this thriller on motherhood was invited to the Un Certain Regard section at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival. The local media favorably spoke of the film, saying “Mother would have got a good result if it had been selected to the Competition”. Owing to this fine outcome at Cannes, Mother was finally chosen as the Korean representative for the Best Foreign Language Film of the 82nd Academy Awards. Mother was greatly likely to be one the Academy’s final nominees because it succeeded very well at some local Film Critics Association Awards held in North America at year-end. The film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film of the 23rd Chicago Film Critics Association Awards and won the Best Actress award (Kim Hye Ja) at the 36th Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, boosting the expectations for the Academy. Mother wasn’t disappointingly shortlisted for the Academy, but became fundamental to Parasite’s success in a decade.

OKJA
Credit: Netflix

Bong Joon Ho also made it to the preliminary candidates for the Best Visual Effects of the 90th Academy Awards thanks to the Netflix original Okja. That was the first success for a film made by a Korean director, but Okja didn’t get qualified for getting an entry as the Korean representative for the Best Foreign Language Film of the Academy. It was a U.S. film invested 100 percent by Netflix.

 

Burning

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Credit: CGV Art House

Burning has been evaluated as the closest Korean film to reach the Academy prior to Parasite. Even Variety said, “Burning was also enough to be nominated last year”, when Parasite became the first Korean movie to be nominated for the Oscars. In 2018, Burning was invited to the Competition section at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. The local critics praised it saying, “a film close to the Palme d’Or” and KOFIC gave good marks to Burning as well. Those led Burning to get an entry for the Best Foreign Language Film of the 91st Academy Awards. Burning also caught a lot of attentions at the several local Film Critics Association Awards in North America at the end of the year, especially winning the Best Actor (Steven Yeun) award as well as the Best Foreign Language Film at the 44th LA Film Critics Association Awards. It was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film of the 24th Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, which is usually considered as a prelude to the Oscars like the Golden Globes. After all, Burning was selected as one of the preliminary candidates for the Best Foreign Language Film of the 91st Oscars. It was the first moment in Korean film history, but the film wasn’t eventually shortlisted. A number of the local critics commented that Burning was unluckily eliminated amid the fiercest competition for the Best Foreign Language Film in any year, with Roma, Cold War, Shoplifters and Capernaum being nominated for the section at the same time.

 

The Handmaiden

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Credit: CJ Entertainment

The Handmaiden was also considered as close to the Academy Awards nominee as Burning. It was invited to the Competition section at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival and won the Prix Vulcain (an award for the technicians) in 2016. Then it was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film of the 51st National Society of Film Critics Awards. Particularly due to its mysterious and enchanting Mise-en-Scène, The Handmaiden won the Best Art Direction awards both at the 29th Chicago Film Critics Association Awards and at the 42nd LA Film Critics Association Awards, highly attracted by the public. The most surprising result made by The Handmaiden won the first Best Foreign Language Film award for a Korean film at the 71st British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, the so-called barometer of the Oscars. This huge success was possible in that the local critics and fans loved far its shocking story, which was mixed with an enchanting Mise-en-Scène, as well as its original British novel Fingersmith. Yet The Handmaiden wasn’t even chosen one of the the preliminary candidates for the Oscars because it had not been selected as the Korean representative for the Best Foreign Language Film. In fact, The Handmaiden was belatedly released in the U.K. in April, 2017, so it could get qualified for a nominee for the 2018 BAFTA Awards. There’s no ‘if’ in history, however, some say that The Handmaiden would have been nominated for the Oscars if it had been a Korean entry. Thus, the British film distributor of Parasite decided to release it locally on February, 2020 (the latest release date of Parasite worldwide), anticipating that Parasite would be well-received as much as The Handmaiden.

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