By Guy Atoun, 2nd Year Law
Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite (2019) is a brilliantly deceptive 'magic trick' of a film that has stunned audiences worldwide. Guy Atoun explains why it should win best picture - and why the Academy has a problem with international releases.
This past year holds particular importance for South Korean cinema with the extraordinary success of Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, a dark comedy-thriller which follows members of a poor household who scheme to become employees of a wealthy family in search of a better livelihood. It became the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and received widespread acclaim from critics and audiences alike, grossing over $148 million worldwide thus far and becoming Bong’s highest grossing release along with the third highest-grossing film in South Korea.
Why is this level of success considered unusual? Well, non-English/American films seldom receive the worldwide recognition they so often deserve. International directors often struggle to get their films past the film festival process- assuming they reach that point in the first place- whereby hundreds of features are screened in the span of two weeks. Many of these pictures are independent and seek for a major production company to purchase the rights for their films and release them on a larger scale.
Ultimately, the process leading up to the eventual release of these international films in cinemas domestically and worldwide is challenging in its own right. What it takes for an international film to even be considered by the Oscars is a whole different matter as the Academy Board tends to value domestic releases over international ones through - mostly - unnecessary constraints in their technical requirements. Despite this, Parasite made history by earning six nominations at this years’ Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best International Feature Film, making it the first South Korean film to be nominated in those categories.
Parasite may make history on the 9th of February but there remains countless other non-English/American films who have yet to receive their worthy recognition
Historically, the Academy Awards have not been great in rewarding international films. Since the Oscars began only 12 other non-English language movies have been nominated for best picture and none of them has ever won. Alternatively, the Academy tends to recognise such films via the foreign language film category, recently renamed to Best International Feature film - whereby each ‘foreign’ country submits one film as their official entry and the Academy members choose their five favourites through the typical voting process.
The idea that only one good film is made by every country each year that it worth recognising demonstrates idleness and unnecessary prejudice on the part of the Oscar and reiterates their, albeit unsurprising, need to prioritise American features. This prejudice against international filmmakers is exacerbated in consideration of the Oscars’ persistent lack of diversity among nominees which is further illustrated with this years’ selections.
Despite this, Parasite may be the film that breaks this discriminatory curse with many critics opting it as their favourite to win the top prize at this years’ ceremony. Although this will not reverse the clear bias in the film industry, it will hold significant importance for future international filmmakers and may even influence the future of the film industry.
With regards to the film itself, Parasite achieves a splendid balance between an entertaining picture and a commentary on the economical state in modern South Korea. It tackles the issues of greed and class discrimination and provides a cleverly constructed piece that represents the poor, working class family members as shrewd individuals that are capable of manipulating the wealthy family into hiring them. This is a change of pace when considering many other films that often represent individuals who are in economically disadvantageous positions as vulnerable and unintelligent people.
Regardless, the viewers themselves are not necessarily manipulated by Bong’s political message as the twisty narrative and dense characters will undoubtedly engage the audiences’ critical capabilities, thereby ameliorating the complexity of this social issue and providing an experience that is seldom found in many English-spoken features today.
Parasite achieves a splendid balance between an entertaining picture and a commentary on the economical state in modern South Korea
The issues examined in Parasite are not exclusive to South Korea. The overriding concern of substantial inequality between the rich and the poor holds particular importance for many countries, including the UK as the subject itself was frequently discussed among politicians and news outlets in the most recent general election. Topics such as economic disparity and education privileges are not ‘foreign’ to many of us, so why do we categorise countless films which discuss these matters as such?
Ultimately, cinema is about the exploration of different perspectives worldwide - with emphasis on ‘worldwide’. By thwarting the dissemination of internationally produced films, we are not only barring viewers from witnessing many of these perspectives and experiences that are often parallel to our own; but we are also preventing the all-too needed harmonisation of domestic and international films.
Parasite may make history on the 9th of February but there remains a myriad of other non-English/American films who have yet to receive their worthy recognition. This is especially disheartening as 2019 was full of superb films made by young, diverse filmmakers who explored their voices and opened our eyes about the various individualistic experiences shared around the globe. I can only hope that Parasite is recognised for the masterpiece it is.
Parasite is set to receive a major release in UK cinemas on the 7th February
Featured - IMDb / Barunson E&A
What favourite films of yours have been left out by the Oscars? Let us know!