Bong Joon-ho on the Oscar Circuit

It is the season of wooing, in which film studios send their directors and stars to make the circuit of “tastemaker screenings” and build support for Oscar campaigns.

Director Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes, is up for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, International Feature, Production Design, and Film Editing. The film is about a poor family going to work for a rich one.

Bong and company have been on the circuit for months, despite his telling Vulture, “The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local.”

One of those screenings was held this week at the Cinerama Dome at the ArcLight Hollywood Theaters. My West-Coast correspondent Tim, who informs me on the glamorous life in Los Angeles, attended.

Tim calls the Dome “a relic from a bygone era.” The theater, a Buckminster-Fuller style geodesic dome, is more than 50 years old and has often been used for premieres. It seats 800 and has state-of-the-art projection technology and a curved screen that measures 32 x 86 feet. The theater is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Tim says there was a movie premiere going on at the regular theaters at the same time. “Something to do with the military. People were standing around in military uniforms and in red-carpet ballgowns; the hip agent-manager types were all over the place. I was relaxed and having a good time, and they were trying real hard.”

Tim says the audience for both FYC events was largely film geeks and other enthusiasts. They chattered when the actors delivered good lines, applauded the end of the movie the way you do not hear much anymore, and even applauded when the music changed in the credits.

The joy of Parasite, Tim says, is that the first half is a comedy, the second a bizarre tragedy-surprise, because first-time viewers do not know the characters are capable of what happens later. (While I have seen Bong’s Okja and Snowpiercer, I have yet to see Parasite.)

After the screening, Bong Joon-ho and his lead actor, Song Kang-ho, were interviewed (with the help of omnipresent translator Sharon Choi) for the For Your Consideration series with Collider. The FYC series began in November and will go until the Oscars, February 9th. Previous screenings/interviews have included Joker, Knives Out, Rocketman, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tim went to the Once Upon a Time screening and enjoyed it so much he got tickets for the Parasite event, which sold out. Both the Koreans and the Americans seem surprised at how the Americans have taken to a foreign-language film.

“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Bong told the crowd through Choi at the Golden Globes, scooping up his prize and sticking it to them in one motion.

Despite the film’s relative popularity and financial success ($26 million gross in the US and Canada combined), Once Upon a Time has grossed five-and-a-half times more. And Tim says that when the FYCevents were over, the audience was told to stay in their seats to let the interviewees leave unmolested by hangers-on and autograph seekers. Tarantino, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio were mobbed anyway at their event, and the giant bully-boys had to escort them out.

At Parasite, the audience stayed politely in their seats while Bong and his star left quietly. Their film is, I suspect, the better film of the two.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.