This Korean Entertainment Conglomerate Made ‘Parasite’ Happen, Financed Oscar-Winning Satire
The multi-Oscar-winning film Parasite, a bitterly comic-tragic satire on class divisions and rivalries in South Korea, owes much of its success to the 61-year-old granddaughter of the founder of Korea’s largest chaebol or conglomerate, Lee Byung-Chull.
It was Lee Mi-kyung, known as Miky, who took the microphone from the director and writer, Bong Joon Ho, after Parasite had won accolades as best picture and best international feature at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. As vice chairwoman of the CJ Group and executive producer of the film, she spoke for everyone else standing with her on stage as she heaped praise on Bong, who also won Oscars as best director and, with Han Jin Won, best original screenplay.
“I like everything about him, his smile, his crazy hair, the way he talks, the way he walks and especially the way he directs,” she said during the ceremony. “What I really like about him is his sense of humor and the fact that he can be really make fun of himself and he never takes himself seriously.”
The words came easily to Miky, who, as vice chairwoman of CJ Group and executive producer of the film, has been the driving force behind CJ’s rise as South Korea’s biggest entertainment company. It all began when she and her younger brother, CJ Chairman Lee Jae-hyun, 59, invested $300 million into DreamWorks at its founding nearly 25 years ago. Her role expanded after her brother was convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion and sentenced to two and half years in prison, from which he was released with a presidential pardon in 2016.
A graduate of Korea’s prestigious Seoul National University, Miky studied Japanese in Japan and Chinese in Taiwan, then earned a master’s degree in Asian Studies at Harvard. Next, she served as director of Samsung America before joining Cheil, which Lee Byung-chull had founded as Cheil Sugar, a major Samsung entity.
Lee Maeng-hee, Lee Byung-chull’s oldest son, took over Cheil, renamed Cheil Jedang, while Lee Kun-hee, his younger brother, got the rest of the Samsung empire, including Samsung Electronics. In 1993, Lee Maeng-hee transferred control of Cheil Jedang to Lee Jae-hyun, who broke off from Samsung and shortened the name to its initials, CJ, after the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
As CJ vice chairwoman, responsible for the entertainment division, Miky has won a reputation as an exuberant, creative figure, one of the forces behind the “Korean wave” and the international popularity of K-pop. “The DreamWorks deal marked the start of the group’s rapid expansion outside of its previous food specialty,” says Geoffrey Cain, author of the newly published book Samsung Rising. Together, Miky and her brother, says Cain, “ran the CJ Group as a very compatible team with Jae-hyun planning company strategy and Miky implementing his plans often by traveling overseas for negotiations and to scout entertainment trends.”
Miky, who now lives near Los Angeles, showed her sense of independence from traditional Korean cultural constraints when CJ produced satires of Park Geun-hye, the president who was impeached and jailed in the Candlelight Revolution of 2016 and 2017. That same spirit came through as she spoke for everyone involved at the Academy Awards.
Just as important as her praise for director Bong was the recognition she gave brother Lee Jae-hyun for “always supporting and building our dreams even when it looked like impossible dreams.”
“Thank you, Jay. I want to thank my brother Jay,” she said, leaving no doubt he had supported her in her investment in Parasite along with Bong’s earlier films and numerous other ventures in film, TV and K-pop too.