People watch a TV screen showing South Korean director Bong Joon-ho with his Best Picture Oscar at the Seoul Railway Station on February 10. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/CHUNG-SUNG-JUN
People watch a TV screen showing South Korean director Bong Joon-ho with his Best Picture Oscar at the Seoul Railway Station on February 10. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/CHUNG-SUNG-JUN

Seoul — Parasite director Bong Joon-ho is getting support from unexpected quarters in the wake of the film’s historic Academy Awards triumph: South Korean conservatives. Since Bong became the first director of a foreign-language film to hoist a Best Picture Oscar on Sunday, conservative politicians have been rushing to lionise the filmmaker.

One candidate seeking election in the country’s upcoming parliamentary election has proposed naming a street after Bong and erecting statues to him and his characters. Another proposed building a film museum in his hometown.

The calls are surprising if only because they are coming from members of South Korea’s opposition Liberty Korea Party, the successor group that backed former President Park Geun-hye.  Park’s staff maintained a blacklist that denied state funding to artists such as Bong and more than 9,000 other cultural figures critical of the government.

The attempt to capitalise on Parasite’s groundbreaking Oscars success highlights a problem facing the LKP as it tries to take the National Assembly back from President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party in the April general elections. A recent Korea Gallup poll showed 31% of the voters were undecided while 36% supported the ruling Democratic Party and 20% for the Liberty Korea Party, which voters historically associate with the pro-conglomerate policies widely blamed for the social inequality given global exposure by Bong’s film.

Class and Inequality

Parasite tells the story of the poor Kim family whose son Ki-wu gets a job teaching English to the daughter of a tech executive named Park Dong-ik. The rest of the family then scheme to secure jobs in the wealthy household by inflating their qualifications and pretending they are not related.

Concerns with class and inequality fuelled mass protests in 2016 that led to Park Geun-hye’s impeachment and subsequent ouster and propelled Moon into power the next year. While Moon’s administration has since been hit by its own corruption scandals, allegations that the Park administration excluded artists including Bong from state funding complicate any opposition hopes of scoring points from his victory.

Bong was among 9,473 artists and cultural figures blacklisted for voicing criticism of how the administration handled the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014, according to South Korea’s culture ministry. Also on the list was CJ Group’s Miky Lee, a relentless advocate for Bong who shared the Oscar stage on Sunday and who the Park administration pressured the company to demote.

That has not stopped LPK candidates from trying to leverage Bong’s status as a symbol of South Korean soft power. Kwak Sang-do, who was once Park’s senior presidential secretary for civil affairs and later served on the National Assembly’s cultural committee, pledged to expand cultural facilities in Bong’s hometown of Daegu.

‘Act of Desperation’

Another conservative candidate, Bae Young-shik, suggested erecting a statue of Bong, naming a street after him, as well as restoring his birth home. “The US, Russia, and Europe do not hold back on investing to honour their artists, politicians, academics, and scientists by making streets and erecting statues,” Bae told the DongA Ilbo newspaper. “We must support making Bong’s national contributions known all over the nationwide and worldwide.”

Still, it’s unclear how many points such proposals will score with voters. “This is an act of desperation by the South Korean conservatives,” cultural critic Chin Jung-kwon wrote on Facebook. “They are trying to free-ride on director Bong Joon-ho’s glorious victory — that’s some gall.


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