CJ E&M’s outsized role in pushing ‘Parasite’ is an ironic twist in itself

‘Parasite’ gathered awards one after another like Pokemon since its release in 2019. From breaking records to garnering international praise, the movie achieved the highest honor at the notoriously local Academy Awards by winning the coveted title of ‘Best Picture’.

Although the black comedy about class warfare will go on in cinema history for its achievements, it is far less known that ‘Parasite’ would have not achieved the status it has today if it weren’t for some formidable funding.

CJ ENM vice chairman Lee Min Kyung, also known as Miky Lee, put in a great amount of effort into campaigning for the movie’s Oscar win. Known for her influence on Korea’s popular culture, Lee has consistently shown a focused interest on movies, music, musicals, and other cultural business ventures. She departed for the US in 2014 ostensibly for health reasons but insiders say that her departure was sparked by threats of retaliatory investigations by former president Park Geun Hye’s administration. Lee made her first official appearance in five years at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival where ‘Parasite’ won the Palme d’Or, the highest honor awarded at the festival. Lee’s public support of the movie led to the beginning of the rapid increase in stock prices for ‘Parasite’s production company, Barunson E&A. Her inclusion in the movie’s credits as a producer is an honor that earned her notice from Fortune Magazine, which mentioned her work promoting Korean creatives.

‘Parasite’ received absolutely no support from the Korean government as the Korean Film Council’s office in LA was eliminated last year. It is common fact that CJ ENM was the driving force behind the movie’s Oscar campaign since August of 2019. In fact Bong Joon Ho specifically named Choi Yoon Hwee, the head of CJ ENM’s overseas distribution, as one of the people he is grateful for. The campaign was especially taxing for Bong who attended numerous North American screenings, film festivals, awards ceremonies, receptions, and parties. He stated in an interview that he felt like he was part of a wandering vagabond theater troupe while traveling from location to location in a van.

So the real question is: exactly how much did CJ ENM invest into getting ‘Parasite’ its incredible Oscar sweep? Variety Magazine estimated that most Oscar campaigns run about 20 to 30 million dollars. Although CJ ENM have kept their lips sealed regarding this matter, insider sources say that the campaign cost, which includes the cast and crew’s accommodations in the US, various reception fees, interpreter fees, and more, amounts to around a whopping 10 million dollars.

The irony behind the fact that the largest conglomerate in Korea, one saddled with morally dubious record in itself, is solely responsible for a movie about class warfare and its current acclaim is not lost on many. Although the recognition is well deserved for Miky Lee, the fact that she is one of the richest Korean heiresses in the country raises up the issue that ‘Parasite’ is largely a success because of its corporation backed funding and reveals the stark reality of the industry itself.  Regardless, it is clear that the movie’s success will continue to play an instrumental role in CJ ENM’s business plans in the future.


IATFB says: As you are aware by now, I’m a big fan of Parasite. And for me, I found this article interesting not just because it provides a contrarian take amongst the breathless hype but also because I don’t think it makes a lame “you participate in a society, yet you criticize it” point alone. Rather, its point is useful to illustrate that no matter how amazing a film is and how resonant the themes behind it are in terms of class warfare, the reality is that the industry itself requires somebody from that upper class to believe in it to get traction perhaps provides even more food for thought than intended.

About Seiyeon Lee