What is 'Parasite'? A guide to South Korean Oscar winner
TORONTO -- On Sunday night, the South Korean drama “Parasite” took home Hollywood’s top prize and became the first non-English language film to ever win that honour in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards.
And while many across South Korea were jubilantly celebrating how the film nabbed Oscars for Best Picture, Best International Film and Best Director, there may have been people watching the show last night only now hearing about “Parasite.”
While the film made approximately US$165 million in sales across the world, it pales in comparison to other Best Picture contenders such as “Joker,” which raked in US1 billion or war epic “1917” which took in US$287 million.
So CTVNews.ca explains how the film deftly examines class and serves as the culmination of director’s Bong Joon Ho's filmography.
WHAT IS 'PARASITE' ABOUT?
Without delving into spoilers, the film follows the lives of two families on opposite sides of the economic divide: the street-wise but destitute Kim family and the rich, oblivious Park clan.
The film sees the Kim family weaselling and scamming their way into the Park’s lives and essentially leeching off their wealth – like parasites.
For example, the Kim family son, played by actor Choi Woo-shik, pretends to be a college-educated English tutor. And as the film progresses, each of the Kim family members similarly become employees of the rich Parks, who are unaware of just how much they’ve being swindled.
But the real drama picks up when the Kims’ hubris catches up with them and their chickens come home to roost. And by the end of the film, it’s less clear which family is the so-called “parasite.”
THEMES INCLUDE CLASS CONFLICT
While the film balances dark humour and horror throughout its two-hour runtime, its main themes are class conflict and social inequality.
Some have pointed out that the film is strongly associated with “Hell Joseon,” which is a recent term South Korean millennials have used to describe the hopelessness and misery of them living in the country.
But the film’s theme of class has resonated with viewers and critics who point out how the super-rich appear to live on a different level than everyone else.
The film uses a staircases visual motif to signify the economic status of characters in society. One of the earliest examples is how the Kims live in a semi-basement apartment (common for less affluent Seoul residents), while the Parks live at the top of a hilly road.
The director also shows how one event -- such as a monsoon -- can mean vastly different things for people, depending on their life circumstances, and how such events can expose and upset relations between social classes.
DIRECTOR AND THE 'ONE-INCH-TALL BARRIER OF SUBTITLES'
Film critic and host of CTV’s “Pop Life” Richard Crouse included the film as part of his list of best films of the decade and it’s fairly evident why: “Parasite” is essentially its director’s life’s work.
Bong Joon Ho has examined themes such as class conflict in his more recent films, such as 2013’s “Snowpiercer” and 2017’s Okja both address the topic.
The director has also pointed out how non-English films like his and last year’s “Roma” still have a challenge reaching a mainstream international audience.
“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” he said, as he accepted his foreign film award for “Parasite” at the Golden Globes awards.
BOX OFFICE POPULARITY
“Parasite,” which is currently showing in 174 markets worldwide, has already grossed a total of US$165 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
The site also points out that the film, like past Best Picture winners, is expected to see a bump in box office sales, according to entertainment website Deadline.
But none of these figures should be surprising considering “Parasite” is the highest grossing Palme D’Or winner in both France and North America in 15 years.