[PICK] ‘Oldboy’ Almost Didn’t Win an Award in Cannes?

Edited by Hwang Hong Sun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

Cannes Film Festival, one of the world’s top film festivals, has been a new chapter in Korean film history. Everything that happens in the Cannes Festival, from the possibility of getting invited, the reactions at the scene to actually winning the awards, affects the box office success back at home. Since when did the Cannes Film Festival pay attention to Korean films? We look back on the historical moments, focusing on the great achievements of Korean films in the Cannes Film Festival.


In 2000, ‘ChunHyang’ Became the First Korean Film to Get Officially Invited to the Cannes Film Festival

Credit: Taehung Pictures

The start of such keen attention was ChunHyang. Korean films have been screened during the festival before, but ChunHyang is the first film to be invited for competition. Directed by Im Kwon Taek, the film reinterpreted the Korean traditional pansori novel Chun Hyang. It was also the debut film of actor Jo Seung Woo. Unfortunately, it failed to win an award, but the fact that Korean film was invited to the Cannes Film Festival was covered in the news, making headlines. Two years later, director Im Kwon Taek won the Best Director Award with Strokes of Fire for the first time in Korean film history.


In 2004, ‘Oldboy’ Wins the Grand Prix

Credit: CJ Entertainment

Even the process of being invited to the competition was quite dramatic for Oldboy. Except for some rare exceptional cases, the competition section fo the Cannes Film Festival only invites the World Premiere films. However, Oldboy was already released in Korea. Although it did not meet the requirements to enter the competition, with strong recommendations of officials from the festival who had already watched the film, Oldboy was officially invited to the competition section, not the non-competition section. The reactions to Oldboy, which landed in the Cannes Film Festival after a hard time, was explosive. Rumors that Quentin Tarantino, the jury president of that year, was impressed by the movie surfaced, raising the expectations for the possibility of winning an award. Eventually, Oldboy won the Grand Prix, the second-most prestigious prize of the festival.


In 2006, ‘The Host’ Begins the Bong Joon Ho Craze


Where was the first place that director Bong Joon Ho showcased his “uppercut” ceremony? The answer is right after the screening for The Host, which was invited to the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, has ended. While director Bong Joon Ho was walking up to the stage as he was showered with a standing ovation, he showcased his “uppercut” ceremony as if he was responding to the cheers. When the movie was officially released, the marketing team used his ceremony as part of the promotions. Eventually, the movie became the box office hit, attracting 10 million viewers. After The Host, the Cannes Film Festival has become an indispensable venue for promoting tentpole films that aim for the release in summer. A Hard Day (2014), Train to Busan (2016), and The Spy Gone North (2018), all received positive responses at the Cannes Film Festival and succeeded in domestic box office success.


In 2007, Jeon Do Yeon Became the First Actor to Win an Acting Award at the Cannes Film Festival with ‘Secret Sunshine’

Credit: Cinema Service

Another good news flew in from the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. The news was that Jeon Do Yeon of Secret Sunshine won the Cannes Best Actress Award. It was the first time in 20 years that a Korean actor won the best actress award at the world’s top three film festivals since Kang Soo Yeon won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress award in 1987 with The Surrogate Womb. Jeon Do Yeon was praised for her splendid portrayal of extreme emotions of anger and loss as she played the mother who lost her son to a kidnapper in Secret Sunshine. It is all the more meaningful in that she was awarded the best actress award, even with the high language and cultural barriers.


In 2013, ‘Safe’ Wins the Short Film Palme d’Or

Credit: VZ Pictures

Safe won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 66th Cannes Film Festival. It is a 13-minute short film directed by Moon Byung Gon and tells the story of Min Ji, a cashier who exchanges gift certificates at an illegal gambling house, meeting a guest with intent to kill.


In 2019, ‘Parasite’ Is Awarded the Palme d’Or

Credit: CJ Entertainment

The fact that Parasite will shock the Cannes Film Festival was detected early on from the official screening. Even when the film was screened, cheers and applause were heard from time to time, and eight minutes of standing ovations were poured out as soon as the film was over. After the screening, the film received high praise and was considered a strong candidate for the Palme d’Or. On a side note, director Alejandro González Iñárritu went up to director Bong Joon Ho during the congratulatory reception and said he felt sorry that he couldn’t give the Cannes Best Actor Award trophy to Song Kang Ho, who was a candidate, because Parasite was awarded the Palme d’Or.

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