Joon Ho’s Oscar Success with “Parasite” a Win for Foreign Filmmakers

Eve Nguyen, Staff Writer

A smile broke out on Director Bong Joon Ho’s face when his Korean film “Parasite” was called for the fourth time in one night at the 92nd Academy Awards back in February. The film ended up winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and International Feature Film. Such success at the Academy Awards for a foreign film is unprecedented, especially because the film was entirely in Korean.

The film is praised by many because of its A-list acting, social commentary and directing. I found the movie especially compelling because of small details Joon Ho included that contributed to the overall message of the film: economic classes are separated and interact in South Korea. For example, the wealthy family’s household– which is up the hill from the poorer family’s household– alludes to the idea that this family of higher wealth and status views themselves as superior, even when it comes to the elevation of their household.

The plot of “Parasite” follows the poor Kim family’s journey as they try to improve their lifestyle by creating fake personas and infiltrating the wealthy Park family as household workers. As the film progresses, the audience watches the Kim family go to extreme lengths to keep their well-paying jobs, such as holding an older couple hostage in the Park family’s secret basement.

Throughout the movie, Joon Ho uses different strategies to show the buildup of tensions and lies that leads to the climax of the film. In many scenes, members of the Kim family act as the focal point in an otherwise still frame in the Park household. This helps intensify the suspense surrounding the Kim family’s actions at the Parks’ house. Joon Ho creates this effect by using dim lighting to portray moments in which the Kim family seems to be stirring up trouble. Joon Ho also differentiates between the upper and lower classes by characterizing them very differently. The lower class individuals are shown in rainy, dark and overcrowded settings while the upper-class families are pictured in cleaner and more modern environments. The contrast between the Parks’ more formal dialogue and the nonchalant lines delivered by the Kims further distinguishes the two classes.

One of the highlights of “Parasite” was the emotional flooding scene. Upon returning home from the Parks’ house after a long day of work, the Kims find their small basement home flooded with water and sewage as they wade through their flooded house in complete disarray without much dialogue. It made me very sad to watch them suffer through a hard day of work only to then go home to an even worse situation. What added to my sympathy for the Kims was the fact that as they dealt with the destruction of their home, the Park family was completely oblivious to their issues in their fancy house up high. The stark contrast between the Kims being in the luxurious Park household and then going to their small, flooded apartment made me very conscious of the intense differences between the two opposite social classes.

As for the movie’s success at the Oscars, this wasn’t just a win for Joon Ho and everyone who played a role in producing the movie. The success of a foreign film sends a bold message to the American and international audiences that the American film industry acknowledges and recognizes the work of artists from different backgrounds. Letting “Parasite” share in on the exclusivity of Hollywood not only shows audience members the importance of foreign films but also boosts the popularity and presence of foreign films as a collective. Such a win for Joon Ho’s “Parasite” is a win for the foreign film industry as a whole because he was awarded on a stage that has a pattern of not recognizing a diverse array of films.

Aside from utilizing the film to make social commentaries, Joon Ho gave his own opinion on the American audience in his Golden Globe acceptance speech after “Parasite” won Best Foreign Language Film. In his speech, Joon Ho critiqued American insensitivity and intolerance rather than the Korean social class differences portrayed in the film. He said that Americans’ laziness to read subtitles closes them off from a whole world of amazing foreign films. This power move seemed like Joon Ho’s way of saying that although “Parasite” won four Oscar awards and a Golden Globe, the real win was becoming a voice for the foreign film community, which still struggles to reach American viewers due to the “one-inch barrier of subtitles”, as Joon Ho says.

Overall, I see the success of “Parasite” as a starting point for the rise of the foreign film industry. Now that Joon Ho’s production has put out a good rep for foreign filmmakers, hopefully, other films of different backgrounds will rise to the forefront of American mass media. “Parasite” seems to have set off a movement for the inclusion of diverse films in an industry that lacks popular movies in non-English languages and will hopefully change the Hollywood film industry for good.