Super Producer Miky Lee Keeps Rising After ‘Parasite’ Oscar Win (2024)

On a late September afternoon, Miky Lee is sitting ina makeshift office in her home in Orange County, watching footage from the new K-pop reality show I-Land. Sporting a black sweater, white T-shirt, black leggings and a messy ponytail, she pushes back loose strands of hair with her headband as her Japanese Akita named Sasha walks into the frame during the Zoom call. The Tennessee-born, Seoul-raised mogul easily could be mistaken for a SoCal dog walker, given her casual vibe and the quartet of canines in her charge. But looks can be deceiving. Lee, in fact, presides over one of the world’s largest entertainment conglomerates with CJ Group, which she has built into a globe-spanning media powerhouse over the past 25 years. In terms of female-ledentertainment empires, Lee’s kingdom is eclipsed by only ViacomCBS’ Shari Redstone.

In this sprawling house in which Julian Schnabel paintings hang, Sasha competes for Lee’s attention alongside Kyra the Australian shepherd, TJ the Sapsaree and Marlo the Great Pyrenees — fittingly, all girls. Also occupying major mental bandwidth for Lee are CJ’s assets, which generate billions in revenue across film, TV, music, exhibition and live theater. As vice chair of the South Korean giant, the mogul boasts overallrevenue of $28 billion, $4.8 billion of which comes from CJ’s entertainment and theater exhibition. Lee’s grandfather, Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, launched CJ as a sugar manufacturer in 1953. But it was the Harvard-educated Lee who steered the company into entertainment in the 1990s by taking a $300 million stake in DreamWorks and forging longlasting friendships with the Sun Valley set, whose expertise she brought back to her home country.

CJ’s footprint now includes 4,222 theatrical screens in seven countries as well as 16 TV networks. On the music front, CJ produces more than 300 concertsand festivals throughout the world each year, bringing the K-pop phenomenon to the masses worldwide. And on Broadway, Lee has bolstered CJ’s presence with the company backing everything from Kinky Boots to Moulin Rouge!

Super Producer Miky Lee Keeps Rising After ‘Parasite’ Oscar Win (1)

“She’s like a sponge,” says David Geffen, who has been close friends with Lee since 1995, when she signed on as an investor in the fledgling studio from Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg. “When I first met her, she had no involvement whatsoever in the entertainment business. And today she’s the big deal. She’s very thoughtful, not frivolous or careless in any way,” he adds. “She does the work. She investigated the potential for [DreamWorks]. She and Paul Allen had virtually all the investment in the company, and it was a big risk. Fortunately, it paid off and put [CJ] in the entertainment business.”

Lee, who this year is THR’s International Producer of the Year, is dominating the entertainment industry both here and abroad. The 62-year-old mogul’s unlikely Hollywood ascent reached a peak in February, when she took the stage and accepted the best picture Oscar statuette for Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, a film that CJ backed and that she executive produced. In a moment for the history books, the Dolby Theatre crowd egged her on to continue talking after the show’s producers cut her mic for exceeding the allotted time.

“I wasn’t really expecting to give a speech. I wasn’t really prepared,” she recalls. “Bong was telling me, ‘You should say something.’ And I said, ‘You should say something.’ And he said, ‘I’ve done so many, so please.’ Then when the microphone went down, I didn’t know that it meant get offthe stage. I thought it was technological,” she recalls with a laugh. “And then Charlize [Theron] and Tom Hanks were like, ‘Go, Miky. Go, Miky.’ So I was like, ‘OK.’ “

Two days after CJ’s Oscars triumph, the company announced that it was taking a $100 million-plus investment in David Ellison’s Skydance Media, raising the latter’s valuation to $2.3 billion. (The deal closed in late 2019, but the announcement was held until after the Academy Awards.)

Super Producer Miky Lee Keeps Rising After ‘Parasite’ Oscar Win (2)

“I will never forget I had lunch with Miky at Ivy at the Shore [about a decade ago], and the first impression was her intelligence, her taste and really her desire to build something prolific with CJ Entertainment,” says Ellison. “This was during the DreamWorks days, and if you look at what she talked about doing then and what she has built now, she has accomplished just about everything she set out to do, which is pretty remarkable.”

If Parasite’s success wasn’t enough, Lee’s CJ also launched the comedy Extreme Job in 2019. The film became the No. 2 all-time-grossing film in South Korea and is now being remade at Universal with Kevin Hart starring. Parasite and Extreme Job earned $378 million worldwide combined, punctuating South Korea’s cultural arrival on the world stage.

“The Korean population is 50-some million, and 17 million people came to watch that film,” notes Lee of Extreme Job. “And Parasite, big hit, right? Every year is going to be 2019 from now on, right?” she says with a laugh.

Unfortunately, 2020’s coronavirus pandemic ushered in a devastating era for companies like CJ that are heavily invested in theaters, concerts and conventions. (CJ also produces the culture festival KCON, whichattracts about 1.1 million attendees in seven countries.) But Lee is nothing if not pragmatic, and she quickly pivoted. With 33 artists on the bill, KCON went virtual this summer, and more than 4 million fans from 150 countries tuned in, marking a turnout 3.5 times larger than a typical KCON.

Likewise, Lee also moved forward with the I-Land reality seriesin which a new K-pop sensation is assembled and anointed through a Big Brother-meets-American Idol process. Before coronavirus hit, CJ had been building a huge soundstage in a forested region of South Korea that later became an ideal pseudo-bunker for the quarantined contestants.

The program, which wrapped in September with the christening of the boy band ENHYPEN, attracted more than 44 million online global viewers. Moving forward, the production space will be used seasonally for I-Land, so CJ will take advantage of the vacant period by booking COVID-friendly film productions. Lee says she already has identified two projects that will shoot on the campus, which provides sequestered room and board for a cast and crew.

Super Producer Miky Lee Keeps Rising After ‘Parasite’ Oscar Win (3)

On the hard-hit exhibition front, South Korean multiplexes like those owned by CJ are open, offering an industry bright spot. But Lee is thinking ahead about enticing the post-COVID moviegoer, citing CJ’s investments in 270-degree screens that cover peripheral vision — a technology that could be melded with auteur storytelling.

“In Korean, we have this expression of break it apart and put it together,” says Lee. “Even right before coronavirus, it was starting. Like lots of streaming services [launching] and the movie theater going through such a hard time. And Imax and an all-different format is going to be the future. We are having a hard time, the movie theater, exhibition business people. This is the time for breaking it apart and putting [our business] together in different forms.”


As a toddler, Lee moved withher family from Tennessee to Seoul. It was there in the South Korea capital that she fell in love with cinema and Western pop culture. One wall of her father’s work studio housed his musiccollection containing Japanese pop, classical — from Bach to Tchaikovsky — as well as Brenda Lee, Harry Belafonte and Chuck Berry. “The Twist! I remember the vinyl with the black-and-white visual of him doing the Twist,” says Lee of the classic song by Chubby Checker as she grows animated, gyrating her body. “I grew up with an abundance of global music.”

Decades later, Jimmy Iovine struck up a relationship with Lee after being introduced toher by Geffen. He was always impressed by her musical fluency and sophistication. “I found her to be unique because she had a feel for Western culture as wellas global popular culture,” says Iovine, who collaborated with Lee on some music projects when he was at Interscope. “I’ve watched her along the years, and I’m not surprised at her success at all because she was ahead of her time. You meet a lot of people who are ahead of their time, but sometimes they’re not the ones to reap the reward. But she had a tenacity and a stick-to-it-ness, and we developed a great relationship.”

As a youngster, Lee also became a budding cineaste thanks to her father’s obsession with the masters. By the 1970s, he was collecting pneumatics (a precursor to VHS) of Kurosawa and Hitchco*ck films and movies starring Yul Brynner, Kim Novak, Vivien Leigh, Bette Davis and Cary Grant. “We grew up watching all these black-and-white movies,” recalls Lee. “You just name it. Of course, everything was dubbed in Korean, so we had the voiceover actor who specialized in Cary Grant’s voice and one who specialized in Vivien Leigh’s voice.”

But the movie experience that proved to be most cathartic was watching The Sound of Music in a big theater that was a short walk from her house. She was 10. “Every weekend I would sneak out and watch Sound of Music. I ended up watching it like 12 times,” she remembers. “I memorized all the songs, all the dialogue.” Five years later, it was The Godfather. “James Caan getting killed in the ticket booth with the machine gun, the horse’s head cut off in the bedroom, the scene of theswimming pool,” she says in rapid succession. “Still, it’s my favorite film.”

In the process, Lee developed a critical eye, gravitating to the era’s bold auteurs. It’s a passion that later fueled her relationship with artist and filmmaker Schnabel, whom she refers to as one of her best friends. “She just has a beautiful mind and a great spirit,” he says. “She’s got an amazing amount of energy, and so she’s got a lot of things going all the time, a lot of which I don’t know anything about. But our taste in films is somethingthat we commiserate over. I don’t know if I talk to anybody as much as I talk to Miky.”

Super Producer Miky Lee Keeps Rising After ‘Parasite’ Oscar Win (4)


After graduating fromHarvard in 1987 with a master’s in Asian studies, Lee set out to forge her own path in the family business. Following a brief marriage to Kim Seok-ki that ended in divorce in 1994, she became singularly focused on expanding the company from commodities like sugar and flour into the entertainment space. Imax CEO Richard Gelfond, who met Lee about 25 years ago in Hong Kong, remembers that shewas interested in learning about the economics of theaters. He left the meeting slightly skeptical. “She was incredibly upbeat, positive and really confident,and I’d be lying if I didn’t say Iwas a little dubious because she had such grand ambitions,” says Gelfond, who became one of Lee’s closest friends. “Not only did she pull it off, she maintained her core character and values structure, and she’s even more confident, more outgoing, just an incredibly bubbly person. During the COVID pandemic, my wife, Peggy, and I sometimes will call her because we just need a dose of Miky and her optimism.”


On this sunny afternoonLee is trying to stay optimistic despite the news that coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the planet. In the meantime, the CJ pace won’t abate. The company has more than 20 projects in active development, including Save the Green Planet, an English-language remake of the Korean movie, with the original director, Jang Joon-Hwan, teaming with Midsommar director Ari Aster. On the TV side, the company’s Studio Dragon division has 14 projects in development, including Hotel Del Luna with Skydance.

Lee pauses to rub her hands, feeling pain in her extremities. The titan suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease,an inherited genetic condition that affects the nerves in the feet, legs, hands and arms. “It’s exactly the same mechanism as ALS, but it stops at your elbow and your knee and doesn’t travel up to the spine,” she says. “So I am really grateful. But balancing and mobility is really tough. You lose all this mobility gradually.” Lee’s grandmother also had CMT. There’s no cure, but Orange County has some of the best CMT doctors in the world, and she’s feeling, well, optimistic.

“Coronavirus is really disastrous for so many people, but in the midst of all this disaster, I have had time to focus on my therapy. So in that instance, I’m kind of grateful.”

And with that, Lee takes a sip of water. The glass is half full, naturally.

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CJ Entertainment’s U.S. Adaptation Slate

What will be the next Snowpiercer? Four projects are percolating

In May, TNT’s series Snowpiercer became the latest title to migrate from CJ Entertainment’s library to a U.S. studio or network. Based on the 2013 film directed by Bong Joon Ho, the Snowpiercer series will return for a second season in the winter. With more CJ adaptations in the works, here are four highlights:


It’s an English-language remake of the 2003 Korean movie and will see the original’s helmer, Jang Joon-Hwan, back in the director’s chair. Ari Aster (Midsommar) is producing the film about a man who believes the world is on the verge of an alien invasion and sets out to save the planet.


As perhaps the hottest film prospect on the CJ horizon, Extreme Job is in development at Universal with Kevin Hart starring and producing. The English-language remake of the 2019 Korean cop comedy centers on an undercover police operation that takes “a delicious, unexpected turn.” Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver is penning the screenplay.


CJ subsidiary Studio Dragon is teaming with Skydance for a series based on the 2019 Korean hit that stars K-pop standout Lee Ji-eun. The story centers on an elite hotelier who becomes the manager of an establishment that only caters to ghosts. There is no official network yet, but Studio Dragon has a deal with Netflix.


Showtime is developing this drama series from writer Michael Saltzman (The Boys) and Kapital Entertainment. The original Korean series, created by Ji-woo Kim and Chan-hong Park, centers on an attorney forced to confront his past mistakes and perilous future while racing to uncover a Big Pharma conspiracy that may lead him to a cure that could save his life.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Super Producer Miky Lee Keeps Rising After ‘Parasite’ Oscar Win (2024)


How did Parasite win the Oscar? ›

production to win Best International Feature Film. award for Original Screenplay with his collaborator, first-time screenwriter Han Jin Won.

How many Oscars was Parasite nominated for? ›

It received six Academy Award nominations in 2020, which was the first year in the history of the awards that South Korean films were recognized with Academy Award nominations (a South Korean documentary short was also nominated that year).

How many awards has Parasite won? ›

Among its numerous accolades, Parasite won four awards at the 92nd Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. It became the first South Korean film to receive Academy Award recognition, as well as the first non-English-language film to win Best Picture.

Who made the Parasite? ›

Parasite (Korean: 기생충; RR: Gisaengchung) is a 2019 South Korean dark comedy thriller film directed by Bong Joon-ho, who co-wrote and co-produced the film with Han Jin-won.

What made Parasite so successful? ›

The film's considerable technical achievements aside, however, what fuel's this film's Best Picture viability is its topical resonance, its ability to demonstrate one of the central issues of our era—inequality—in surprising ways.

Did the ending of Parasite actually happen? ›

However, it's quickly revealed that the scenes of Ki-woo buying the house are just in his imagination. We're brought back into reality by the closing shots of the film, not of Ki-woo in the house freeing his father as part of a victorious montage.

Has anyone won an Oscar twice? ›

Bette Davis won twice, for Dangerous (1935) & Jezebel (1938). Luise Rainer was the first to win twice consecutively, for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) & The Good Earth (1937). Vivien Leigh won twice, for Gone with the Wind (1939) & A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Ginger Rogers won for Kitty Foyle (1940).

Is Parasite based on a true story? ›

It's this sense of verisimilitude that makes it seem like a true story, even if it isn't. Despite that, Bong claims he drew inspiration from a true-life experience. That helps to give the movie a wellspring of plausibility, which is vital to its unique tone.

Where was Parasite filmed? ›

Dir. Bong Joon Ho. Starring Song Kang-ho with a highly lauded ensemble cast, the tragicomedy about a poor family that inveigles its way into a rich family's home and life filmed 60% of their 77 shooting days in Jeonju and in its environs.

Why was Parasite a hit? ›

Film observers say “Parasite” has connected with international audiences in part because it strikes universal themes and hits on social issues that are playing out in many countries.

What record did Parasite break? ›

Parasite becomes history's first ever non-English film to win Best Picture, the highest accolade of the Academy Awards.

Why is Parasite rated R? ›

Ultimately, Parasite earned its R-rating due to its language, graphic violence, and some sexual content. For the most part, Parasite's dialogue includes an array of words and topics not appropriate for young viewers. This includes consistent use of swear words and mentions of sexual content and violence.

Why is Parasite so disturbing? ›

The film is generally based on the differences of poor to wealthy groups of people. A few scenes in the film are extremely intense and frightening. The final confrontation is extremely tense and scary. A former housemaid enters the house at a rainy night which leads to many frightening scenes.

Will there be a Parasite 2? ›

Director Bong Joon-ho has confirmed he's working on the sequel to his Academy Award-winning movie, Parasite. Parasite made history at the Oscars last year as the first ever non-English language movie to win best picture.

What movie did Parasite copy? ›

While the movie has been appreciated widely, netizens feel it is a rip-off version of an old Tamil film — Minsara Kanna — released in 1999. Twitteratis made a reference to the plot to argue that Bong Joon-ho's award-winning movie is just a pale imitation of the Tamil movie starring Vijay and Khushboo Sundar.

Why is Parasite a masterpiece? ›

The film does an exceptional job in showing the ways that those who are impoverished are treated poorly in subtle ways, and the effect that it has on them is greater than many would assume. The film also calls to question how money influences the way people behave and addressing the advantages it gives the wealthy.

How do they pick who wins an Oscar? ›

The film that gets 50 percent or more of the votes is the winner. If one movie doesn't get 50 percent out of the gate, the one with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the members who voted for that as their top choice have their votes added to the film that was next on their list.

How many Oscars did Oppenheimer win? ›

Nominated for 13 awards, Oppenheimer won seven, including Best Picture, Best Director for Christopher Nolan, Best Actor for Cillian Murphy, and Best Supporting Actor for Robert Downey Jr. Article continues after video.

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