How Bong Joon Ho and ‘Parasite’ are Changing Cinema

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This weekend we have the 92nd annual Academy Awards for excellence in film in the year 2019. I gave my predictions for the Oscars a few weeks ago but since then the tide has been turning towards a surprise win for a South Korean film called Parasite. The film is directed by Bong Joon Ho and whether it wins or not what he has accomplished with his film is groundbreaking and will hopefully influence cinema for the better for many years to come.

Bong has directed and written 14 movies. He first burst onto the international scene in 2006 with the monster horror movie The Host. While it only made $2 million in the US it has $89 million worldwide, which on an $10 million budget isn’t too shabby. Next he had a strange arthouse film called Mother followed by an English language dystopian classic starring Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer in Snowpiercer.

In 2017 he made a film for Netflix in English called Okja starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and more. So what does he do next? He goes back to the Korean language and makes without question the most celebrated film of 2019, Parasite (that’s with an Oscar for best picture or not). This was a bold choice for the director and shows a confidence in his product that I admire. He could have made Parasite in English with American actors but he used his building credibility to showcase his home country and language in a special and important way.

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After winning the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, Bong said:

“Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”

Some may call it wishful thinking but I think he has a real chance of making this dream come true with many filmgoers who saw and enjoyed Parasite. I have rarely seen a film get both the praise of the highbrow film crowd and the everyday filmgoer. Almost everyone I know loves Parasite. It’s the most unexpected crowd-pleaser in years!

This is especially significant for a film not in English but also for one that has a socio-political message. As great as his directing is on the film, his deft and subtle hand in his screenplay is perhaps his greatest achievement. He crafts characters that do lots of unlikable things and yet you are rooting for them the whole time- at least for me that’s true with both the poor and rich families.

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We are even getting a version of Parasite in black and white coming to theaters this weekend. I am beyond excited to see that! Indeed, there is so much to be excited about with the film and like Bong said it could provide ripple effects in the embrace of non-English films for years to come. Even if we could open people’s minds to films from South Korea, India and Nigeria you’re talking hundreds, maybe even thousands of films each year to enjoy and discuss!

This impact will be heightened even more so if Parasite does pull off the best picture win and there’s reasons that it might. It has already won the big prize at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards as well as awards at the Golden Globes, BAFTAS and more. Betting odds have been improving for Sam Mendes’ 1917 for the past month, but they also did in the buld-up for last year’s foreign-language favorite Roma, right up until the moment the more crowd pleasing Green Book took the top prize instead.

Fortunately Parasite doesn’t have the same problem of Roma because it’s both incredibly accessible and entertaining, so anything is possible!

I know I am certainly pulling for Parasite to win. What do you think? Does it have a chance and has it impacted your experience with foreign films? Do you think it will have a ripple effect for more acceptance of subtitled films?

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