The Academy Awards has a number of glass ceilings that need to be shattered. A woman needs to win Best Director (again). An African-American man or woman needs to win Best Director. An Asian actor or actress needs to win either of the two lead actor categories. And, most intriguingly over the past few years, a non-English language film is on the precipice of finally winning Best Picture. Last year “Roma” almost cleared that hurdle. This year, Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” has a shot at making history. Unexpectedly, it’s chances likely lie in the performance of one of South Korea’s most legendary actors, Song Kang-Ho.
For those who do not pay attention to the Academy’s complex political formula – if there is one – to win Best Picture there are a number of key indicators that have historically taken place. A Best Picture winner almost always has a Screenplay, Editing and Directing nomination. It also has at least one acting nod. For much of this year, there was concern that “Parasite,” the most critically acclaimed film of the year, could not muster an acting nomination. And then, delightfully, the film earned a Best Ensemble nomination from the Screen Actors Guild Awards. That had only occurred once before in the history of the SAG Awards when “Life is Beautiful” earned the nod over 20 years ago. There is no “ensemble” honor at the Oscars, but it means the actors at large – who make up the biggest branch of the Academy – adore director Bong Joon Ho’s impressive cast. So, while “Parasite” did not earn an individual nomination from SAG, could the acting branch of The Academy, which usually leans more cinephile in their selections, provide that key nod? If they do, it will likely go to Kang-Ho.
While many of the actors in “Parasite” are well known in South Korea, Kang-Ho has the biggest international profile. He’s starred in Joon Ho’s breakout “The Host” and his global hit “Snowpiercer.” He also has Park Chan-wook’s “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Thirst” on his resume. Joon Ho also plays Ki-taek, the father of the struggling Taek family in “Parasite.” He gives a smoldering performance that is key to the film’s unexpected third act. Other actors in the “Parasite” cast could surprise with a nomination, but if it happens it will likely be Joon Ho and it means anything is possible when it comes to “Parasite’s” Best Picture chances.
Joon Ho sat down to discuss his “Parasite” journey a few weeks ago in Los Angeles. His comments were made through an interpreter.
The Playlist: Compared to some of the movies you’ve been in in the past that have had big receptions across the world what has the reception been like for “Parasite”?
Song Kang-Ho: Well, I wouldn’t say there’s that much of a difference per se. As you mentioned, for “Snowpiercer” I work with the American actors under the so-called American system whereas for “Parasite” it was solely Korean film making. I work with the Korean actors under the Korean production system, and as far as working with director Bong is concerned our relationship hasn’t really changed that much because we worked many times before.
I think I meant more in the sense of the post-production phase – all the publicity, the screenings, the festivals and all the awards it’s received. It’s just been a really long campaign in many ways.
Speaking as an actor, what I’m most delighted is how “Snowpiercer” did pretty well. We got some interest from the other people outside of Korea, but with “Parasite” I feel like director Bong has finally come upon the light and people are seeing who he is as a director and he’s receiving the respect that he deserves. So, as an actor and as a partner in a working creative relationship, that is very delightful. That is the most satisfying experience that I’m having right now.
What has the experience of seeing it with audiences all around the world been like for you?
Yeah, I’ve seen it many times. Cannes, over here in the States, Toronto, Telluride and not even just me, but including director Bong himself. We were very surprised because the movie itself is very Korean and even the humor itself is very Korean humor. But people were understanding everything, including the humor. Not 100% I would say 120% movie! So, I was very taken aback and I was surprised by the response from the audience.
It’s funny because I think the humor in the movie is actually very universal. I’m sure there are jokes that go by non-Koreans that we don’t recognize, but when I watched the movie I think I see the jokes. Maybe I’m wrong.
That’s exactly the genius of Director Bong.
You’ve known Director Bong for over 20 years. When he’s working on a new project, does he give you a heads up or is it something of a surprise when you get the call?
Neither one. He comes after having completed sort of a framework. Well, to be honest director Bong, yeah he does consider me when he’s writing the screenplay, but at the same time, he worked with the different actors before. So, I’m not the only one that he’s solely abounded by. Actually, privately, we had this conversation director Bong and I and I asked him for the next project, “You want me to be in there?” And then he said, “I have to write the screenplay and then I’ll talk about it.” He’s very cold-hearted. [Laughs.]