The filmmaker had already made history earlier in the evening when his win for best original screenplay (shared with co-writer Han Jin Won) made Parasite the first South Korean film ever to win an Academy Award.
But after picking up a second expected Oscar for best international feature, it seemed as if Parasite’s awards run might end there.
Clearly Bong thought so.
"I thought I was done for the day and was ready to relax” he joked when he took to the podium for a third time to pick up the director award that had been predicted to go to Sam Mendes for 1917.
But as Jane Fonda drew proceedings to a close by crowning Parasite best picture, the ceremony — which had largely gone to script in terms of the most high profile awards — suddenly had a moment to rival Moonlight’s dramatic win three years ago: Parasite’s victory over the favourite, 1917, made history again by becoming the first foreign language film ever to win the top award.
That it was also the most rapturously received win of a night that included Brad Pitt’s and Laura Dern’s extremely popular best-supporting-actor wins for their respective films Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood and Marriage Story also helped end the night on a high.
True, Bong’s screenplay win did deny 1917’s Scottish co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns an Oscar (although 1917’s Scottish sound mixer Stuart Wilson triumphed for his work on the film), but the twisty Hitchockian thriller has become a genuine phenomenon since triumphing at the Cannes film festival last May — and Bong has been one of the most gracious and entertaining fixtures on this season’s awards circuit.
The latter was exemplified by his best director speech, which paid tribute to fellow nominees Martin Scorsese, whose films he studied as a young filmmaker, and Quentin Tarantino, who championed him in the West long before mainstream Hollywood caught on.
But Parasite’s four awards were also thoroughly deserved.
Cinematically speaking this film about a fallen-on-hard-times family infiltrating the world of a wealthy clan oblivious to their true existence is surprising, entertaining and tackles important themes without ever becoming the sort of worthy-but-dull message movie that can sometimes triumph at the Oscars (see last year’s Green Book).
Symbolically its victory also felt appropriate on a night that the ceremony’s organisers, presenters and winners were forced to acknowledged the lack of diversity among the most high-profile nominees.
From Janelle Monáe’s opening song through to the rambling speeches of Joaquin Phoenix (who won best actor for Joker) and Renée Zellweger (best actress winner for Judy), the backslapping was interspersed with plenty of knuckle rapping over the systemic problems that keep the same faces in the Oscar limelight year after year.
Perhaps the industry could learn something from a close watch of the film it has just honoured.