The world is Bong Joon Ho’s oyster following last Sunday’s Oscar triumph.
“Parasite’s” surprise best picture victory was a statement-making moment for the South Korean filmmaker and for Neon, the indie distributor that helped catapult the film into the awards season race and its founder Tom Quinn, who has been a longtime backer of the director’s movies.
“It’s validation for Bong,” said Jeff Bock, box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “It’s the road to untold riches. Even though he was already making the films he wanted to make, now he’ll have much more control over them. I suspect he’ll never have another ‘Snowpiercer’ situation ever again, where he lost the wheel. He is now the one and only captain of his ship.”
Bock is referring to Bong’s battles with Harvey Weinstein over his English-language debut, “Snowpiercer,” a sci-fi adventure that the indie mogul tried to re-cut. That kind of situation isn’t likely to be replicated. Bong hasn’t made a decision about what his next project will be, but in a November cover story for Variety, he said he was toying with two ideas.
“I am preparing two different projects,” Bong said. “One is a Korean-language one, and the other one is an English-language one. Both projects are not big films. They’re the size of ‘Parasite’ or ‘Mother.’ The Korean film is located in Seoul and has unique elements of horror and action. It’s difficult to define the genre of my films. The English project is a drama film based on a true event that happened in 2016.”
Bong is also working on an HBO adaptation of “Parasite,” which he will produce alongside Adam McKay (“Succession”). On the Oscars red carpet, Bong dropped a few hints about what he’s cooking up.
“We’re still in the very early stages,” Bong said. “I met with Adam McKay recently and had a fun conversation. It feels like we’re starting to build things one by one…Right now we’re still talking about the structure of the narrative.”
Sources say that when he does hit upon an idea for his next film, Bong will have a wide array of suitors. Quinn has worked on five of Bong’s seven films, starting with the release of the monster movie “The Host,” when Quinn was a top executive at Magnolia. He later played a key role in saving “Snowpiercer,” sweeping in to secure a theatrical release when he was running Radius-TWC, the Weinstein Company’s boutique-genre label. “Parasite” was financed by CJ Entertainment, a subsidiary of CJ Group, a South Korean conglomerate that invests in everything from biotechnology to home shopping. The company recently announced it would strengthen its presence in the U.S. media space by investing in Skydance, the producer of “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.”
Neon struck quickly on “Parasite,” buying U.S. rights to the film before it had even started shooting.
“We paid a lot of money for the movie at the script stage even though it was in a foreign language, because I knew that Bong was the greatest living director working today and has been for years,” said Quinn. “I understood that he could make films that appeal to genre audiences, but also ones that intellectually stimulate review-driven audiences by engaging with complex ideas.”
Agents and studio executives predict that Bong could have his pick between major studios or streamers and should be able to command a substantial budget. They even suggest that he could sign a mega-deal to produce films and movies of the kind that other auteurs such as J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron have recently inked.
Quinn acknowledges that he’s going to face more competition if he wants to land Bong’s next opus. “Everybody should want to work with Bong Joon Ho and everybody should have been wanting to work with him for 20 years,” he said.
It also helps that Bong has forged ties with A-list talent in Hollywood thanks to his work on “Snowpiercer” and “Okja,” two films that boasted ensembles that included the likes of Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal.
“Even though ‘Snowpiercer’ wasn’t the easiest production, it felt like talent, especially those from the States, couldn’t stop raving about him, so the word of mouth really got other talent excited to work with him on whatever it was he had next,” said one top agent. “The thing that has made him even more appealing is how he kind of has become this man of mystery where you don’t know if his next project will be something like ‘Okja’ where the cast is very diversified or ‘Parasite’ where it’s a completely Korean cast, making it that much more of catch if you get the opportunity to work him given how rare those chances are.”
The success of “Parasite” will also raise the profile of Neon. The indie studio, which was founded just three years ago in New York and recently opened an L.A. branch, has already made a name for itself after scoring an Oscar nomination for Margot Robbie in “I, Tonya” and a win for her co-star Allison Janney, and releasing buzzy films such as “Apollo 11” and “Three Identical Strangers.” In the process, it’s established a reputation for fielding foreign films and edgy work that man studios shy away from releasing. The Oscar success of “Parasite” will likely have other filmmakers scrambling to partner with Neon on their next passion projects.
“For Neon, it catapults them into the big leagues of distribution,” said Bock. “It’s every indie’s dream of taking a chance on a film and having it win Best Picture at the Oscars.”
Quinn downplays any idea that “Parasite” has made his company an overnight success. There’s been a lot of groundwork to get to this point, he argues, not just at Neon, but at previous stops such as Radius and Magnolia.
“It might make it easier and it might mean that my calls get returned a little sooner,” said Quinn. “But it’s always been our ambition to work with best filmmakers from around the world.”