The 92nd Academy Awards, the most prestigious accolades in Global Film, saw the Korean language thriller film “Parasite” (기생충) directed by Bong Joon ho, sweep a record 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best International Feature Film, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It is the first ever Korean film not only to win these awards, but to be nominated for them, as well as the first ever non-English film to have won the former.
The movie, which depicts an impoverished Korean family living in a basement apartment who con their way into gaining household jobs with wealthy family, is an elaborate social commentary of inequality and struggle in South Korean society. Yet, it is far from being locked in a cultural bubble and the extent of its acclaim duly indicates it is a message fit for the world as a whole
There is no question that we live in a world which is dominated by English language in the arts. Hollywood has always been in a league of its own and has decisive hegemony over global cinema. Every single one of the most famous and highest box office grossing hits in the world have been American, and the sheer dominance of Los Angeles has made it near impossible for other countries around the world to develop their own domestic film industries, save a few spots of glitter here and there in Bollywood, and of course the star of this article: Korea.
Along with India, South Korea is the only country in the world wherein its domestic box office is capable of competing with American films. To ensure this is the case, a given regulation has long limited the number of Hollywood movies that can be released in Korean Cinemas, thus giving local producers a chance to step up and not be drowned out by the flood of American productions. This of course has paid off, Korea continues to produce its own domestic hits year upon year, with huge enthusiasm and appeal to the local population.
Still, one big challenge remains: That is the success of South Korean movies outside of Korea, in a world indisputably dominated by Hollywood Anglophone glamour. Unfortunately language becomes a major hurdle, with English hegemony making most native speakers less inclined to learn foreign languages and an anticipation that foreigners use English itself, its just a “way” things are. As Joon ho points out, people dislike the idea of subtitles and few give foreign language films a chance accordingly.
However, the Parasite’s sweeping success at the Academy Awards should be a signal to the world that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that beyond the language barrier lies some phenomenal works of art and cultural treasures which bring enriching experiences to audiences around the like. These honors weren’t given out of tokenism, empathy or to simply appear trendy, anyone who has sat and watched the film will recognize firmly that they are truly and duly merited on each respective level. This is a masterpiece, and in turn it is a message to the world what Korea offers.
Foreign language film should not be negated or downplayed, but embraced and explored. There is a world to see and discover outside of our own bubble. South Korea has in the past decade developed itself into a world producer of culture, known as the “Korean Wave”. In music and film it now poses some incredible successes and Parasite thus stands as the latest edition. It is brilliant in its own sense, but its “breakthrough” label can easily lead the world to assume that there is nothing else yet worth viewing or seeing in Korea film or for any other country in that matter.
Not so, it’s in fact the cherry on the top of a beautiful cake. This is a turning point, all we can do now is encourage you to get outside of your comfort zone and dig deep into Korean cinema! Congratulations to everything Bong has achieved!