As Jokers, Gemini men and charmingly eccentric spooky families hit the theaters this weekend, there is one movie that is looking to latch on to the box office and shake things up. Auteur Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has already been released abroad and has been making its festival runs leading up to what Neon hopes to be a solid debut and launch of an award season run.
Parasite will join the ranks of other award season contenders that have recently hit theaters including Judy and Pain and Glory. From the looks of it, it seems like the buzzy Korean film will rule the specialty box office — but that’s not to say that the mockumentary Mister America or the riveting documentary Emanuel won’t be worth your time.
If you heard anything about Parasite, then you probably know that everyone who has seen it is remaining tight-lipped about the film’s story as director Bong Joon-ho has urged people not to spoil the viewing experience for others — and it is an experience.
“It is his most complex and grandest film,” said Tom Quinn, co-founder of Neon. “The degree in difficulty, which is generally high in all his films, is way higher with Parasite and for reasons that I can’t give away. The traits that come with a Bong Joon Ho film are endlessly entertaining — there is no other filmmaker like him.”
He’s right. There are twists and turns in this film that make it a contorted spectacle that includes excitement, shock, fright, empathy and social commentary in a way that Joon-ho can only do. “He’s a genre all on to himself,” adds Quinn.
The film stars Song Kang Ho, Choi Woo Shik and Park So Dam and features the interaction and relationship between the wealthy Park family and the scamming street smart Kim family. When their worlds collide the ecosystem between the two families begins to go haywire in the most darkly hilarious and heartwrenching way.
Parasite has paved a golden road for itself as it is already sitting pretty as the best-reviewed film of the year with a Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh 100% Critics Rating. It won the Palme d’Or when it made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, making it the first Korean film to do so. It continued to light up the festival circuit playing at Telluride, Beyond Fest and the New York Film Festival. It was the Audience Award Winner at the Toronto Film Festival as well at Fantastic Fest.
The film is set to open today at the IFC Center in New York and the Landmark and Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles before expanding to seven markets next week and 15 the following week. By the end of the month, Federoff said the film will be on roughly 85 to 100 screens in the top 25 markets.
“From there, it’s going to be a bit more of a ‘watch and see’ strategy,” adds Elissa Federoff, Neon’s head of theatrical distribution. “I would like it to be on as many screens as we can possibly be. We hope to be on a robust number of screens by mid-November.”
The film is also South Korea’s foreign-language submission for the Academy Awards — but there is a chance that this may go beyond that single category. Perhaps it will pull a Roma and be in contention for Best Picture.
“This movie has the potential to crossover,” said Federoff. “It needs word of mouth and nurturing because of the barrier of being a foreign language film and we need people to understand it’s so much more than that. It is all in this package that is so highly accessible, entertaining and fun.”
“The film has opened around the world and we’re a little late to the party,” Quinn adds. “There’s incredible momentum outside of our territory. Combined with all the credible excitement from Telluride on having won several audiences awards — that momentum is definitely working in our favor moving towards a strong opening and a healthy academy season.”
Quinn points out that many people probably weren’t familiar with Joon-Ho when he did Barking Dogs Never Bite besides a small community of cinephiles. However, when Magnolia released The Host, he was put in the spotlight. It grossed over $2 million at the domestic box office and the DVD sales were massive.
“While there are a lot of people who are coming to Bong’s work for the first time through Parasite, there’s a very large contingency of people that I think ticks off a ton of boxes critically, acclaim, awards-focus but also young and old,” said Quinn.
He said that the audiences for the film at Fantastic Fest and the New York Film Festival serves as a good barometer for the film in regards to the number boxes the film checks. “Whether it works as a genre film for one audience or a well-reviewed specialized film about “upstairs-downstairs” class struggle for another, Bong is one of the few directors who does it effortlessly and for that reason, it does crossover.”
The idea for the mockumentary Mister America started seven years ago on Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington’s On Cinema at the Cinema. In it, Heidecker played a version of himself that soon expanded to podcasts, web series, a book and a five-hour trial in the style of Court TV.
“It was during the shooting of the trial where we got the idea of him running for District Attorney and trying to unseat the prosecutor that was trying to put him in jail,” said director Eric Notarnicola. “The idea is that he fires his lawyer and begins representing himself. That arrogance gets to his head and he decides to take on the judicial system by launching a hopeless campaign for DA in San Bernadino.”
The film has one foot in reality and in this fictionalized world in which Heidecker lives in. In Mister America, a freshman filmmaker follows Tim during the final month of his campaign and it evolves into a study of toxic delusion as his motivations and controversial past begin to unravel his candidacy. Notarnicola points out that his interaction with “real people” gets honest reactions, but as opposed to mockumentary projects like Who is America (which Notarnicola also worked on), the real people are less the butt of the joke and give more than an actor that is a mirror on Heidecker’s arrogance and insanity.
Mister America is a mockumentary about politics, but Notarnicola said that when they set out to make this, they wanted it to be a study of Tim and Greg’s characters. It’s a continuation of the characters we were introduced to on On Cinema at the Cinema.
“There are political overtones and Tim’s character absolutely reflects a lot of the people you see in politics today,” said Notarnicola. “It definitely has a lot to say politically but it is focused more through the lens of these characters and their attempt to fit into the political system.”
The film opened on October 9 on 125 screens including the Alamo Drafthouse in Los Angeles as well as the Metrograph in New York, where it had six sold out screenings. The film has grossed $105,000 since opening and will continue to play for a week in theaters and will be available on demand.
Emanuel is a different kind of film entering the Specialty box office. In fact, the film is less about making money and more about telling a story. Directed by Brian Ivie and produced by Steph Curry, Viola Davis and Mariska Hargitay, the documentary chronicles the tragedy that happened on June 17, 2015 when a white supremacist gunman took the lives of members of the Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Telling the story of tragedy and forgiveness, the film was released by Fathom Events in June for one night on 800 screens to commemorate the four year anniversary of the tragedy and the day of forgiveness. Now, the film will be self-distributed and open in theaters in New York and Los Angeles today.
Ivie heard the news of the tragedy while on his honeymoon but stayed away from making a film about it because he didn’t want to be an opportunist or turn it into a Hollywood enterprise. A year later, when the memorial came around, he traveled to Charleston with Dimas Salaberrios who is not only one of his producing partners but a pastor in the aftermath of the shooting.
“He and I met with family members and talked to them about what it would look like to tell their story” he said. “We were seeking their permission and wanted to know if they even wanted to do it. It became clear that they did.”
Still, he remained cognizant of the story and the responsibility that comes with presenting it. “I have many resources and privileges that a lot filmmakers and people don’t have so I’m very careful because of the responsibility I have as a communicator,” he said. “I am not an entertainer. For me, as a communicator, I understand how the film mirrors what’s going on in society but also how it shapes it so I want to make sure I am being responsible.”
They started the film by meeting with the families with no equipment or preconceived notions and asking them for their permission. Ivie said that from day one they committed to not taking profits from the film and said that all the money would go to the victims and the survivors.
“That was at least one way we can say to the families that they could trust that their hearts are in the right place for this story,” Ivie said. He added they wanted the world to see this in the purest form and not as a commercial enterprise.
Curry, Davis and Hargitay came on board after the families saw the film and gave it their blessing. Their involvement in the film was not about the celebrity of it all, but their personal connection to the story that transcended the movie itself.
Ivie pointed out: “Viola is from South Carolina, she’s a Christian woman and an activist. Steph is a man of faith and is someone who wants to speak to the culture beyond athletics. Mariska is an activist, especially around trauma. They were the perfect trifecta to represent the film and make sure the world didn’t forget about this and that it will never happen again.”
He added, “For me, it was a ministry as much as it was a filmmaking endeavor and that made it automatically different.”
Other films opening in theaters are Netflix’s The King starring Timothee Chalamet and Robert Pattinson. The historical drama is hopping into theaters in New York and Los Angeles ahead of its streaming debut on November 1. El Camino: Breaking Bad (read Deadline’s review here) will also open in more than 125 theaters across the country and will debut on the streaming platform for home viewing. More people will most likely opt for the latter. In other streaming-theater releases, the horror-comedy Little Monsters starring Lupita Nyong’o started a limited theatrical run on October 8 before debuting on Hulu today.