S.Korea Picks ‘Concrete Utopia’ Starring Lee Byung-hun, Park Seo-joon as Entry to Oscars

S.Korea Picks ‘Concrete Utopia’ Starring Lee Byung-hun, Park Seo-joon as Entry to Oscars

Concrete Utopia, an apocalyptic thriller about life in Seoul after a disastrous earthquake, has been selected by the Korean Film Council as its official entry for the 96th Academy Awards ceremony next spring. It will be competing in the Best International Feature Film category. The movie will also be featured at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival.

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Directed by Um Tae-hwa, the film stars Lee Byung-hun and Park Seo-jun as two survivors who try to reinvent their lives and restore some semblance of normalcy after the disaster . Concrete Utopia opened last week in Korea and quickly became the number-one hit at the box office, having already grossed nearly $17 million. The film was inspired by the second part of Pleasant Bullying, a webtoon by Kim Soongnyung, 

Bang Eun-jin chaired the seven-member panel of judges that made the selection. In announcing its nomination, the Korean Film Council said that the film had been “selected unanimously by seven judges, considering that it would be able to appeal to North America without being unfamiliar with the trend of K-culture and K-movie.”

As the statement continued: “We tried to select a film that is Korean yet aims for a global standard, strikes a good balance between artistry and popularity, and appeals without resistance to the Academy Awards, which are also called somewhat conservative. The selected film is the director’s second feature film, and actor Lee Byung-hun has an excellent reputation at home and abroad.”

In the film, survivors of the earthquake gather at the only building left standing, a low-income housing complex known as the Hwang Goon apartments. Since this is translated as the “Imperial Palace” apartments, it gives the filmmaker an opportunity to meditate on class divisions in Korea.

As the jury commented further: “In Korea, an apartment building symbolizes class and wealth. After only the low-income housing complex Hwang Goong Apartments was left standing, the various desires of the characters struggling for survival were well-portrayed.”

Korea has recently become known to global audiences for its thriving film culture. In 2020, Bong Joon-ho became the first Korean director to win an Oscar, for Parasite.
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Last year’s entry by the Korean Film Council was Decision to Leave, by director Park Chan-wook, who had won the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2018, Lee Chang-dong’s Burning had been nominated to compete in the Oscars.

As of this week, two other countries have put forth nominations for the 2024 Oscars:  Estonia (Smoke Sauna Sisterhood by Anna Hints) and Switzerland (Thunder by Carmen Jaquier).

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