Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Parasite: South Korea’s barrier-breaking satire




Parasite: South Korea’s barrier-breaking satire

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Parasite producers Kwak Sin-ae (left) and Bong Joon-ho (right) accept the award for Best Picture for Parasite during the 92nd Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on Sunday. AFP

Parasite: South Korea’s barrier-breaking satire

South Korean thriller Parasite – a dark comedy about modern poverty and wealth that has brought down language barriers to open new audiences to foreign film – can now call itself a history-making Oscar winner.

The movie snapped up four Academy Awards on Sunday – becoming the first non-English-language film to take home best picture honors – the most coveted prize in Hollywood.

Its best original screenplay Oscar was the first Asian win in that category, and the first for a Korean in any category. It comes after the 100th anniversary of Korean cinema last year.

Parasite also snapped up the prize for best international feature film, as was widely expected.

“I feel like I’ll wake up to find it’s all a dream. It all feels very surreal,” filmmaker Bong Joon-ho – who also won for best director – said backstage after the historic night.

The vicious satire about social inequality had already scooped up the Palme d’Or in Cannes last year and the award for best foreign language film at last month’s Golden Globes – also firsts for a South Korean movie.

It was the first foreign-language film to win the coveted top prize for best ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild awards, and snapped up two Baftas for best non-English-language film and original screenplay.

Bong’s film had a broad appeal that transcended individual societies, said Jason Bechervaise, a professor at Korea Soongsil Cyber University.

“There’s a great deal of political rage worldwide exacerbated by a tangible sense of widening social inequality, and Parasite feeds into this very effectively,” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Writer-director Bong Joon-ho, winner of the Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and International Feature Film awards for Parasite. GETTY IMAGES/AFP

‘Money is an iron’

The film follows a family of clever scammers from South Korea’s underclass, plotting for each of them to secure work in an affluent household in Seoul – as tutors, a driver and a housekeeper.

All unemployed at the start of the movie, the four live in a dingy, roach-infested basement flat – whose damp odour clings to them beyond its confines – without access to WiFi in one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries.

Along their way, they forge a university degree and orchestrate a series of lies – which later lead to harrowing violence at the spacious house where they work, whose elegant decor hides a host of secrets.

Critical reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

At one point, the mother declares: “Money is an iron; it smooths out all the wrinkles”, and John Lie, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said the characters’ poverty was both absolute and relative.

The film “does a good job of [showing] how poverty and wealth are inextricably intertwined; the rich are parasitic on the poor, as the poor are on the rich”, Lie said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Actors of the Korean movie Parasite Yeo-jeong Jo (left), So Dam Park (centre) and Woo-Sik Choi arrive for the 92nd Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on Sunday. AFP

Setting an example

The success of “Parasite” comes despite the global dominance of the English language, a perennial challenge for filmmakers working in other tongues and doubly so in the world’s biggest cinema market.

Bong called out American moviegoers at the Golden Globes, telling his Hollywood audience in his acceptance speech: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Bao Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American filmmaker, said Bong’s Oscar win was an “example to aspiring Asian and American filmmakers to follow”.

Parasite was “deeply rooted in its depiction of Korean society without having to pander in any way to foreign audiences”, he said.

Its success will open more channels to other movies, predicted Deborah Shaw, a film studies professor at the University of Portsmouth in Britain, saying it would “make international producers and distributors more likely to invest in non-English language films”.

It proved “that a strong story expertly told and with universal appeal can overcome” the language barrier, she said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from