Director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” won the Oscar for best picture, the first for a foreign-language film, at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday. In addition, it won three more awards -- for best director, best original screenplay and best international feature film.
“Parasite” is the first film in the 101-year history of Korean cinema to receive an Oscar.
Furthermore, it is a historic event and an outstanding cultural achievement for a Korean flick to be nominated in six categories and capture four awards: “Parasite” was not only the first to win, it was also the first-ever Korean movie to be nominated for Oscars and win them.
It showed to the world that Korea is capable of creating cultural content with global impact.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been criticized for sticking to English-language movies by white filmmakers. Considering that the academy gave the best picture award to a movie made in a non-English speaking country for the first time in its 92-year history, Bong’s work obviously marked a watershed in the US film awards.
“Parasite” demonstrated that non-English-language films cannot be slighted by Hollywood if they are well made with resonant content.
In fact, this Oscar success was foreseen to some extent. The movie was invited to 57 film festivals and captured 55 major prizes only to grab four Oscars as the finishing touch.
It won prizes in European film festivals that value cinematic quality, including the 2019 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d’Or. Then it was honored in Hollywood, which puts more emphasis on the market-friendly movies. “Parasite” has been acknowledged as the best film of the year by both standards. It is the second film to win both the Palme d’Or and the Oscar for best picture, after “Marty,” a romance film by Delbert Martin Mann of the US, won them in 1955.
“Parasite” is a black comedy thriller depicting the class divide between the haves and have-nots through two families that are similarly close-knit and happy, but different economically: One is rich, living in a mansion, and the other poor, living in a semi-basement flat. As of Feb. 9, the film has grossed $167.6 million around the world, including $35.5 million in the US and Canada. The success of the movie is the outcome of the sympathy felt by a worldwide audience with universal themes, though it was set in a Korean situation and made in the Korean language.
The genre-defying film showed that Korean cinema is capable of being accepted worldwide in light of both artistic value and entertainment. It also gave a big boost to the Korean Wave that has flourished mostly in the categories of K-pop and K-drama.
The point to consider now is the post-“Parasite” Korean film scene.
Ironically, the future of Korean films is linked to the main theme of “Parasite”: polarization. The current cinema landscape in Korea is not so different from the mansion and the semi-basement flat in the film.
Last year, five movies sold more than 10 million tickets each, but whenever they were screened, many other films were neglected and faded away from theaters. Some movies were given few chances to be screened properly. The oligopoly of screens is a chronic problem in the Korean movie industry. Unless they are stars of the industry, it is not easy for directors to call the shots again if their previous films fall short of breakeven points.
This is why the local movie industry demands a fair allocation of screens to movies, the designation of theaters that will run independent films, and mandatory days of screening Korean films.
More choices for films are beneficial not only to spectators but also filmmakers. If options available to moviegoers are restricted, it will not be easy to produce diverse and creative Korean movies, not to mention critically acclaimed ones. The environment surrounding Korean movies must be improved. If it is stifling for aspiring directors, a second Bong is less likely to appear.
“Parasite” has enhanced the international status of Korean movies and raised the global perception of them.
The film must be a turning point for the development of Korean movies and culture. Then, the second and third “Parasite” will turn up, and Korean movies will grow into a gigantic export industry of the country.