“Parasite” is one of the buzziest box office blockbusters in recent memory, the first and only non-English language film to win the best picture Oscar and one of the most financially successful Korean films ever, having racked up more than $250 million in worldwide receipts. It’s also a uniquely complex picture — part thriller, part black comedy and part drama brimming with socioeconomic class tensions.
The gripping, twisty film tells the story of how a poor family infiltrates the life of a rich one. And while the roller-coaster plot hijinks are unexpected, director Bong Joon-ho is cuttingly obvious about his overall thematic focus on economic inequality, leading Variety to describe his work as “a tick fat with the bitter blood of class rage.”
It’s somewhat ironic, of course, that “Parasite” was financed and distributed by CJ Entertainment, the $4 billion media juggernaut controlled by entertainment empress Miky Lee. Besides Lee’s widespread influence over Korean media — CJ is a dominant force in the film/TV/music industries’ production, licensing, financing and distribution arenas — she’s also an elite member of Korea’s wealthiest family of them all: those Lees, the billionaire heirs to the fortune of Lee Byung-chul, the late founder of the Samsung Group.
The Lees aren’t merely rich; they’re crazy rich. The richest family member, longtime Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, is Korea’s wealthiest man — by a proverbial mile — making do with a net worth of $20 billion, according to Forbes. But to really get an inkling of how essential the Lee family is to South Korea’s economy, it’s necessary to grasp the sheer size of Samsung, which alone accounts for nearly 20% of the entire country’s GDP.
In the mid-1990s, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen began seeking outside investment help for their fledgling film studio. One of the first tycoons they wooed was Lee Kun-hee, who seriously considered having Samsung dump hundreds of millions into the project, though the talks ultimately broke down.
Enter Lee Kun-hee’s niece Miky Lee, who was determined to strike a deal where Samsung could not. She persuaded her younger brother Jay Lee, chairman of Cheil Jedang (CJ), a billion-dollar food and biopharmaceuticals distributor, to invest $300 million into the Katzenberg-Spielberg-Geffen dream. That initial capital, alongside $500 million from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, served as the basis for what became DreamWorks SKG, the film production label now worth billions. Years later, Katzenberg himself would later comment that “There would be no DreamWorks without the help of two people, one of whom is Miky Lee.”
Not only did did CJ’s DreamWorks investment give the Lees an 11% stake in the American production powerhouse — plus the lucrative distribution rights to all DreamWorks productions in every Asian country except Japan — it paved the way for Miky Lee to build her own media empire, the basis of which now includes arenas, concert halls and movie theaters across Asia. Behind her all the while has been CJ Group and her brother — during her “Parasite” Academy Award acceptance speech, the first person she thanked was Jay Lee.
And while Miky Lee technically resides in Orange County, it’s no secret the dual American-Korean citizen spends a significant amount of time at Futureland, her brother’s titanic compound in the mountains above Beverly Hills. The resort-like estate sits on a private ridge high above the L.A. basin and is easily the largest property in a small gated community where other homeowners include Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal Alsaud of Saudi Arabia and billionaire Don Hankey.
Jay Lee bought the eight-acre, three-parcel lot in 1997 for millions, shortly after the DreamWorks investment was finalized, records show. Archived deeds reveal the property was originally acquired through the CJ Group, though the property is technically titled in the name of an offshore corporation. Lee subsequently commissioned megamansion specialists JD Group to design a Mediterranean-style custom compound with a hilltop main house that includes nearly 12,000 square feet of living space and includes an 8-car attached garage and an infinity swimming pool. A second parcel, which has a different address but is part of the same gated estate, includes a “guest” mansion with well over 5,000 square feet of living space, plus a second infinity swimming pool — this one partially indoors and outdoors.
The Futureland estate’s oddball name derives from the Korean word “Mirezi” and resulted from the property being modeled as a residential take on Everland, the Lee family-owned resort that is South Korea’s largest theme park.
According to tax records, Lee’s epic 90210 digs were completed around the turn of the millennium. In the 20 years since, however, several additional renovations and projects have been completed: a golf course with sandtrap was recently removed and a new 8-car garage was added in its place. The garage houses the overflow of Lee’s major-league exotic car collection, including what is believed to be his automotive crown jewel: a banana-yellow 2003 Ferrari Enzo, one of the rarest modern supercars in existence, with less than 1,500 miles on the odometer.
The “guesthouse” also offers what is perhaps the property’s wildest feature: a rooftop tennis court that provides players with spectacular vistas over the surrounding mountains, though it’s likely more than a few errant tennis balls have been launched over the cliff’s edge, never to be seen again.
Because Futureland has never been (publicly) offered for sale and has no immediate neighbors, it’s difficult to assess its market value. But the estate is more impressive than most homes in nearby Beverly Park, the exclusive guard-gated community where houses have sold for up to $40 million. The Lee estate directly overlooks Beverly Park, lording over that celeb-filled community like some sort of haughty, low-slung lighthouse on the hill.
With all of its numerous amenities — the two infinity-edged swimming pools, rooftop tennis court, garaging for at least 16 automobiles, two imposing mansions, a guardhouse, golf greens and spectacular mountaintop views, not to mention 8 acres of land and total privacy — it seems logical to assume the property could be worth $50 million today, or perhaps even more.
And like the wealthy family in “Parasite,” Lee keeps a full-time staff at his architectural home: there’s a live-in estate manager, cook and housekeeper. Full-time gardeners keep the place tidy and 24/7 private security is provided by off-duty LAPD officers. No word on any hidden panic rooms buried deep beneath the ground, however.