Parasite’s Oscar Win: What it Means for the South Korean Film Industry
Thu, April 22, 2021

Parasite’s Oscar Win: What it Means for the South Korean Film Industry

The 2019 South Korean dark comedy thriller Parasite recently won Best Picture at the 2020 Oscars, the awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. Its director Bong Joon-Ho also received a trophy for Best Director / Photo by: Mithoron via Wikimedia Commons

 

The 2019 South Korean dark comedy thriller Parasite recently won Best Picture at the 2020 Oscars, the awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. Its director Bong Joon-Ho also received a trophy for Best Director, making him the second Asian to win the award after Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee for the movie Life of Pi. The Parasite triumph was not just for a single movie but is believed to be the beginning of a new era in the film industry, reports Time magazine.

What Parasite Was All About

Parasite tells the story of the Kim family, who struggles to make ends meet. As the story unfolds, the Kim family starts to cunningly infiltrate the wealthy household of the Park family. Unknown to the wealthy Parks, a stranger has lived in their basement for years. The basement-dweller can be interpreted as just as parasitic as the Kims, who relied on the Parks for their food, shelter, and income.

The movie shows how the working class faces conflict, fighting for scraps, while the rich families live a comfortable life with the help of individuals working beneath them. Dani Di Placido, who writes about film and pop culture in Forbes magazine, opined that the Parks were not depicted as the villains in the story. Rather, their casual entitlement and naivety are the villains. There was also a scene where rainstorm floods the house of the poor family, but the next day, the Kims throw an extravagant birthday party for their kid and were even grateful that it rained the night before. The scene illustrates an imbalance in society.

Bong explained that the poor family was the parasite but the rich family is also the same “in terms of labor” because they can’t drive themselves and wash their dishes. “Both are parasites,” he added. Di Placido thinks that the story is also about imposter syndrome or fraud syndrome.

The movie shows how the working class faces conflict, fighting for scraps, while the rich families live a comfortable life with the help of individuals working beneath them /Photo by: Hassan Hote via Flickr

 

What It Means for SoKor Cinema

Social media, especially in South Korea, went into meltdown during the 2020 Academy Awards. South Koreans were brimming with pride. “This is historic” and a “cultural breakthrough,” BBC shared. Korean cinema expert Jason Bechervaise, who is a professor in the Korean Soongsil University’s department of entertainment and arts, said that it has taken time for Korean films to be recognized by US award bodies. This is even though Korean films can already be considered a “force” in the entertainment industry.

German database company Statista shared the key figures of the film Parasite in South Korea alone as of December 2019, amounting to box office revenue of 85.88 billion South Korean won. The sales in its home country were attributed to moviegoers or the cumulative audience that reached 10.09 million.

Social media, especially in South Korea, went into meltdown during the 2020 Academy Awards. South Koreans were brimming with pride. “This is historic” and a “cultural breakthrough,” BBC shared / Photo by: Isageum via Wikimedia Commons

 

Feature Films: Exhibition, Admissions, Top-Grossing Genres

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) UIS Statistics also revealed the total number of admissions of all feature films exhibited in South Korea in the following years: 2011 (159,790,000), 2012 (194,890,587), 2013 (213,324,223), 2014 (215,100,000), 2015 (217,300,000), 2016 (217,000,000), and 2017 (219,900,000).

Globally, the top-grossing genres from 1995 to 2020 are adventure (1,065 movies released, $63,822,561,967 total gross, and 27.32% market share), action (1,029 released, 47,543,318,013 total gross, and 20.35% market share), drama (5,312 movies, $37,279,741,425 total gross, 15.96% market share), comedy (2,324 movies, $33,970,662,273 total gross, 14.54% market share), thriller and suspense (1,091 movies, $19,559,630,565 total gross, and 8.37% market share), horror (604 movies, $11,764,867,496 total gross, 5.04% market share), romantic comedy (595 movies, $ 9,918,967,972 total gross, 4.25% market share), musical (183 movies, $4,105,667,328 total gross, and 1.76% market share), documentary (2,324 movies, $2,237,708,988 total gross, 0.96% market share), and black comedy (188 movies, $1,666,967,143 total gross, 0.71% market share). Data was provided by movie financial analysis platform The Numbers.

The countries with the highest production budget include the United States ($37,135,477 average production budget), United Kingdom ($30,317,295), China ($31,287,347), France ($23,541,375), Japan ($29,601,538), Germany ($30,393,543), Republic of Korea ($17,430,208), Australia ($30,950,485), and India ($14,424,796).

Bechervaise said that “it was only a matter of time” before the international award bodies would take notice because the South Korean film industry is among the biggest in the world in terms of production budget and box office sales. It is likewise a country of movie-goers. Bechervaise believes that the country’s film industry is now in a “strong position” to go forward.

Breaking the Psychological Barrier in the Movie Industry

When Time interviewed Hollywood producer Janet Yang, she also said that Parasite’s triumph broke the psychological barrier. She was referring to the wall that people built, thinking that non-English movies were limited in the box office and the viewers’ minds as well. She said that at the beginning of her multi-decade career in Hollywood back in the ‘80s, Asian films were not even considered a possibility to be released in wide mainstream media. Even Bong mentioned how Oscar awards are “very local.” Before recognizing Parasite, only 12 foreign language films were nominated for Best Picture, the majority of which showed historical events or people. Examples of which are Life is Beautiful (Holocaust story), Il Postino (about Cuban poet Pablo Neruda), and Letters from Iwo Jima (World War II story).

Ang Lee’s martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon also gained $128 million in 2000 and became the highest-grossing foreign-language film produced at the American box office. Such success proved that audiences are now willing to read subtitles and that foreign films are also worth watching. There are other martial arts films, such as Kung Fu Hustle and Hero, that also replicated the success of Crouching Tiger, but there was still a long way ahead until foreign language movies were recognized in the United States. Korean filmmakers then entered their golden age. Bong, along with other South Korean film directors, created a name for themselves in the ‘90s. Park Chan-wook is among these South Korean film directors. The movie he directed titled Oldboy was the first Korean movie to be recognized in the Cannes Grand Prix.

Now, Parasite has set another milestone for filmmakers outside the US. It can also serve as their motivation to make an impact not just in their home country but also internationally.