“Hollywood” is often used as a synonym for the film industry at large, but its usage is arguably distorting. While it’s true that many of the most popular movies released in a given year originate from studios based in Los Angeles, filmmaking is a global art form, as filmmakers from every corner of the planet use it to express and broadcast their perceptions of the world.
Unfortunately, for as long as it’s existed, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been almost exclusively focused on the Hollywood side of things… but that changed in a massive way tonight. The big winner at the 2020 Oscars was Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which will now go down in history as the first ever foreign language film to win Best Picture. Overall, the South Korean film won in four different categories – the list also including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Film – and it’s exciting not only because of the glass ceiling that the victories shatter, but because the movie is entirely deserving of all its awards.
The buzz for Parasite has been going ever since last spring when it made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was named the unanimous winner of the esteemed Palme d'Or trophy. It took an extra minute to find its way in front of American audiences, not getting a limited release until October, but it’s experienced nothing but success since. Despite the fact that there are large portions of the general movie-going public that is scared off by subtitles, the film pulled in an impressive $35.5 million from ticket sales in North America, and grossed over $165 million worldwide.
There were a lot of people prior to tonight who were already well aware of the amazingness of Parasite, and saw the results of tonight as the movie being justly treated.
The secrets and twists of the film are definitely worth keeping quiet around those who have not yet seen it, but even the first act setup of the narrative is brilliant in its premise and execution. Written by Bong Joon-ho and Jin Won Han, the movie centers on the lower class Kim family, who struggle to survive living in a basement apartment. An opportunity arises when the teenage son, Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), is given the chance to take over a tutoring job from a friend, and he starts working at the home of the Park family – who are incredibly wealthy. One by one, Ki-woo’s sister (So-dam Park) and parents (Kang-ho Song and Hye-jin Jang) start to worm their way into the lives of the Parks as well… but where things go from there you couldn’t predict if you tried.
In many ways, Parasite is a perfect film to be the first foreign language Best Picture winner, as it’s an awesome example of how the language of cinema is universal. The events of the story entirely take place in South Korea, and yet anyone living in a hierarchal society will recognize the themes of class disparity and understand what it’s trying to say about its evil and ills. It’s a beautiful, clever, and hyper-intelligent piece of filmmaking, and very much a reflection of the times in which we are currently living.
Hopefully the win will ultimately have a massive impact on not only the films that are recognized and taken into consideration by members of the Academy for future ceremonies, but also wind up influencing and broadening the horizons of general movie-goers. After the success of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma last year, which won three trophies but missed out on Best Picture, it feels like the Oscars have been building to this moment, and Parasite is a work entirely deserving of the honor. If you’ve already seen it, celebrate its win by watching it again (it’s even better on rewatch), and if you haven’t had the pleasure, you should do yourself a favor and rectify that situation as soon as possible.