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South Koreans celebrate big wins for 'Parasite' at the Oscars

The film about a poor family who worm their way into the lives of a rich household became the first non-English-language film to win best picture.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in started his staff meeting Monday with a round of applause for the South Korean film “Parasite,” after its historic win at the Academy Awards.

He wasn’t alone in expressing his pride in the film and its international appeal as South Korean movie buffs and the media celebrated its victory.

The South Korean film about a poor family of grifters who worm their way into the lives of a rich but naive household became the first non-English-language film to win best picture in the history of the Oscars. It also won for best international feature, best original screenplay and best director for Bong Joon-ho.

Film club members at the Yeonsei University in Seoul celebrate as they watch the Oscars.Ahn Young-joon / AP

“Parasite has moved the hearts of people around the world with a most uniquely Korean story,” the president wrote in a message of congratulations that he then posted on social media.

The film's success at the Oscars led most of South Korea's media Monday with the biggest newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, saying: “Can you believe that ‘Parasite’ won the Academy best picture?”

“It really happened," a headline in the national daily Dong-A Ilbo newspaper exclaimed.

U.S Ambassador Harry Harris also tweeted his congratulations for director Bong and his team as he posted photos of the embassy's Oscars party.

Bong is one of the most popular directors in South Korea and the film was as well-known at home as it was internationally. “Parasite” won the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or last year.

“Truly, I did not expect a South Korean movie to win the best picture category in the Academy Awards because the Oscars are so conservative and centered around the Caucasian culture," said Min Hee Sik, the former editor of Harper's Bazaar in South Korea, who now runs a consulting business in Seoul.

“The director Bong Joon-ho’s strength lies in his ability to see right through people’s lives with so much detail," he said. "Such detailed sensibilities are the foundation of Bong’s power in storytelling.”

"Parasite" actor Jeong Hyeon-jun, left, and his mother Lee Min-jae celebrate at their house in Seoul as they watch director Bong Joon-ho receive the Oscar for best original screenplay for "Parasite" at the Oscars.Ahn Young-joon / AP

The win was a reprieve from the news of the coronavirus, which has preoccupied South Korea, where 27 cases have been reported, though no deaths have occurred. The virus has killed more than 900 people and sickened tens of thousands of others, mainly in China.

Moon alluded to this in his congratulatory message, saying that he was grateful to the director, the cast and the crew for “instilling pride and courage in our people as we come together to weather difficulties.”

Sales at tour agencies, restaurants, movie theaters and department stores have sharply declined, raising worries about the impact on South Korea’s already-lagging economy. Opposition parties are accusing the government of ineffectiveness in coping with the outbreak.

Moon wasn’t the only politician to welcome the recognition for the film.

“It’s happy news, like welcome rain, to the Republic of Korea, which is depressed, stagnant and thrown into despair due to Wuhan pneumonia,” the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said in a statement. Wuhan is the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak.

Associated Press contributed.