Last year, a South Korean movie first made it to the Oscar shortlist of nine films.
A year later, the Korean movie industry is charming the Hollywood Boulevard trouncing cultural and language barriers. Bong Joon-Ho, the 50-year-old celebrity filmmaker from South Korean metropolis Daegu, broke many records with his crime thriller Parasite.
Parasite won four Oscar Statuettes including the best movie, director, foreign language film and original screenplay.
Accepting the awards, Joon-Ho didn't hesitate to give his deliverance speech in Korean, which was translated into English by an interpreter.
For a majority of the American audience, Korean wasn’t totally alien. As a result of the ‘Korean Wave’, something the Asian media fondly termed ‘Hallyu’, a hybrid subculture had been vigorously making its way to the continent since late 2010.
This mix of the southeast Asian traditions and a perceived urban American culture originated in 80s when South Korea witnessed an unprecedented economic boom. Home to corporate giants including Samsung and LG, the country's commercial hubs underwent a major cultural transition to become archetypal first-world metropolises. And with that, began the Korean Wave.
Mass vs Art
Like every other booming culture, South Korea also had its offshoots -- from the so called art-house films to commercial ones and underground music to KPop.
Like in the West, the names Kim Ki-Duk and Ma Dong-Seok are equally popular in Kerala, though the audiences vary. For years, niche film-festival audiences have created solid fan-bases for directors like Ki-Duk and Park Chan-wook who make darker, art-house movies that often deal with sophisticated plots and idiosyncratic characters.
Movies and dramas made in a rather whimsical fashion are winning over the young, urban youth through romcoms and action films. Parasite fits somewhere in between, perhaps leaning a bit more towards the grittier side.
Like Joon-Ho, the director of Burning (2018) Lee Chang-dong also blurred the lines between the two streams, winning admirers across the movie spectrum. When the director of Peppermint Candy (1999) and Secret Sunshine (2007) made it into the Oscars 2019 shortlist, the fans rejoiced.
Though Burning failed to win the golden statuette, many other accolades were showered on the filmmaker last year. Now the picture is going to get even more interesting -- Some Facebook groups for movie enthusiasts from Kerala have been witnessing a curious case of rivalry.
The fans of Korean-American movie star Ma Dong-Seok and Oldboy (2003) actor Choi Min-sik have engaged in rather playful fan wars lately. With many drawing parallels between Dong-Seok and Mollywood superstar Mohanlal, the fan base is getting passionate.
Memes and videos featuring Dong-Seok aka Don Lee as a ‘mass entertainer’ are raging on social media.
The Malayali fans are taking sides for ‘Don lee annan’ and ‘Chan-wook Machan’ -- terming them the Mohanlal and Mammootty of Korean films.
Similarly, the popularity of Korean films have given birth to umpteen subcultures across the world. As for the pop culture hybrids, the bigger catalyst is Korean Pop music.
The 2012 K-Pop single ‘Gagnam Style’ by Psy became a cultural phenomenon around the globe, for its silly dance moves and quirky lyrics. The next year witnessed the debut of BTS, arguably biggest boy band in the world.
The 7-member band, whom the TIME magazine called the “Princes of Pop”, performed at the Grammy Awards this year, a first for a Korean group. Led by their leader Kim Namjoon, known by his stage name RM, the idol group even delivered an address at the UN General Assembly in 2018.
This week, Big Hit entertainment, which manages the group, announced plans to launch a Korean learning mobile app soon. The move, without any doubt, was triggered by the exponential growth of the group’s international fan base.
This week, the group is all set to make its second appearance in a month on a popular US late night TV show.
Though the modern Korean culture leans more towards the West, it is not hard for urban Indians and Asian movie buffs to relish it. The rampant use of honorifics gels with the immense Asian ethos.
Ethnically, culturally and linguistically, east Asia is diverse.
It is this diversity, infusing tradition with modernism and east Asia's obsession for validation from the West, that is being celebrated by Parasite's crowning glory in Oscars.