The South Korean movie “Parasite” made Oscars history at The Academy Awards on Feb. 9, 2020, when it won a slew of awards — most prominently, it was the first foreign film to take home “Best Picture.” Foreign films have rarely made an impact in the American film industry, but “Parasite” has received over 30 awards within the past year all around the world. The film’s director Bong Joon Ho has not only been able to spark conversation about classism in the world, but also surrounding the lack of diversity in our movie repertoire and industry.
“Parasite” is a critical look at the top 1% in South Korea and the grave disparity between the bottom and the top. The entire film follows the progression of the Kim’s, a family living in what is known as a semi-basement — essentially the lowest of the lows underground. The son, Ki-woo, lands a job as an academic tutor for the teenage daughter of the wealthy Park family.
Ki-woo deceives the naive mother of the Park family through forgery and deception and eventually is able to find a job for his sister, mom and dad. The family takes the places of the previous tutors, a housekeeper and a driver through a series of manipulative and clever tricks to fire the others. The Kim family is able to infiltrate the Park family’s home and live off their resources and wealth, hence the title, “Parasite.”
As an audience, viewers can empathize with the universal struggle of rich vs. poor, upper-class vs. lower-class. Throughout the film, there are instances of pure laughter, shocking gasps and horrifying realities. The dark comedy demands the audience’s attention as each moment reveals another surprising element to Bong Joon Ho’s cinematic genius with metaphors galore.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Bong Joon Ho explains the consistent use of stairs and water as a symbol of the constant upward and downward climb in society. Each time the Kim family ascends the stairs, they are elevating their own social status, while water always flows top-down and never vice versa.
When asked how this movie was able to resonate with audiences around the world, Tom Quinn, CEO of film production company “Neon,” told Variety:
“I think there are no evildoers in this film, and there are no innocent bystanders either. I think it’s a circular relationship that every character has. And everyone in this movie is a parasite.”
So, just how successful was “Parasite” in connecting with a global audience? About four Oscars and a Golden Globe kind of successful. In Bong Joon Ho’s acceptance speech for “Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language” at the 2020 Golden Globes, he famously said, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Since “Parasite’s” breakthrough presence in the Hollywood film industry, a dialogue has started on the inclusion and diversity of foreign films. Many critics of The Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press have called them exclusive with issues such as the lack of female directors, POC actors and actresses, and most recently, foreign-directed and -produced films.
Bong Joon Ho has broken through the elite barrier of the Hollywood film industry and has not only encouraged more Americans to expand their horizons, but has also challenged socioeconomic conventions of the 1%. “Parasite” is an absolute thriller with critical jarring parallels to modern society, all while demonstrating its unique cinematic and beautiful filmmaking. Whatever dialogue the movie has already awakened is certainly just the beginning of what might become a more inclusionary Hollywood and overall society.