The Academy Awards may not have a host this year, but they will have a ‘Parasite’.
Director Bong Joon Ho’s genre-jumbling class satire — a twisty, darkly comic thriller about two families, one rich and one poor, whose lives become entangled — made Oscars history Monday morning by becoming the first Korean film ever to earn a best picture nomination. In all, the film scored six Oscar nominations.
It also became the first Korean film to ever land a nomination in the international feature category (which was known as foreign language film before this year).
Since its rapturously received debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where it won the Palme d’Or, ‘Parasite’ has worked its way into the global cinematic bloodstream like few foreign-language films in memory, grossing nearly $150 million worldwide and earning three Golden Globe nominations along with a raft of other honours from guilds and critics groups.
Director Bong, 50, has been building a devoted fan base since the early 2000s with idiosyncratic but always thrilling and thought-provoking genre mash-ups such as ‘Memories of Murder’, ‘The Host’ and ‘Mother’, edging closer to the Hollywood mainstream with 2013’s dystopian sci-fi action film ‘Snowpiercer’ and 2017’s un-categorizable adventure film ‘Okja’. Now, with ‘Parasite’ — which is reportedly set to become the basis for an HBO limited series — Bong, who was nominated for directing, has achieved the sort of global recognition many feel he has always deserved.
As positive word of mouth around ‘Parasite’ gathered steam in the fall at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, many wondered if it could follow the path of last year’s Alfonso Cuaron-directed ‘Roma’ and break out of the academy’s foreign-language box to score a best picture nomination, a feat that fewer than a dozen international films have ever pulled off in the academy’s 92-year history.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times at Telluride in September, Bong said he felt the film’s depiction of the divide between the haves and have-nots had the potential to resonate with audiences everywhere, even if he couldn’t then imagine how big the #BongHive would eventually grow.
“Of course, on the surface level, all of the details, the mannerisms, the people and the visual elements are all very Korean,” Bong said. “But the topic of the gap between rich and poor lends itself to being so universal. I think every country has their own structures and conflicts regarding class. But when you really delve deep into the cave of capitalism and explore the sort of infinite darkness of it, you find a similar sort of mechanism flows throughout.”
Whether ‘Parasite’ can go on to win best picture — something no foreign-language film has ever done — remains to be seen. But accepting the Golden Globe last week for best foreign-language film, Bong said the ultimate victory would be getting moviegoers to broaden their horizons.
“Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” he said. “I think we use just one language — the cinema.”