So don’t feel bad if you woke up to the news of “Parasite’s” win and realized you don’t know much about the movie. We recommend you get out to see it immediately. Until then, here’s what you need to know about the history-making film.
“Parasite’s” South Korean director first burst onto the scene in 2003 with his second movie, “Memories of Murder,” a true-crime drama about the first serial murders in South Korean history that cast a critical eye on policing. He followed that up in 2006 with a cult-classic horror film, “The Host.” Bong became better known in the United States in 2014 with his first English-language film, “Snowpiercer,” which is set in a dystopian world where the only safe place for human habitation is a perpetually running train. The film follows Chris Evans’s character, who lives in one of the last cars with the rest of the “poor,” as he fights his way to the front of the train, where the “wealthy” reside.
While “Parasite” found Bong working again in South Korea (namely, Seoul) and was filmed in Korean, it doubles down on the themes of class warfare found throughout “Snowpiercer.” It’s a tough movie to discuss without spoiling. Essentially, “Parasite” is about a poor family of four who slowly cons an unwitting rich family into hiring them to do various jobs around the house — and things get, erm, complicated.
Critics fell fast for the film, which has a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, higher than any other film nominated for best picture this year. In an ecstatic four-star review dubbing “Parasite” Bong’s “finest work to date,” The Washington Post’s Hau Chu wrote, “a viewer can get lulled into luxuriating in the superficial details of the film. But it’s what’s lurking below the surface that will stay with you long after the movie is over.”
The first sense that “Parasite” might come to represent more than just a great film came at the Golden Globes, where it won best foreign language film. “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Bong said with the help of an interpreter while accepting the award, later adding in English: “I think we use only just one language: the cinema.”
Still, it seemed like a bit of long-shot for any Oscars outside the international film category, particularly given both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ disinclination to award foreign language films and the fact that the year included movies from Hollywood icons such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, James Mangold and Sam Mendes.
But “Parasite” slowly became a phenomenon, winning award after award, including a Screen Actors Guild Award for best ensemble cast in a motion picture. Tellingly, this would prove to be the only acting award this highly celebrated movie would receive, which follows a pattern of actors of Asian descent being snubbed, even when the films in which they appear are lauded.
As more American audiences saw “Parasite,” explainers of its references to South Korean culture began proliferating online for English-speaking viewers. An important plot point involves a noodle dish called “ram-don,” for example. The word was actually invented by subtitle translator Darcy Paquet, who found the actual Korean word for the dish, jjapaguri, too difficult to translate into English. Suddenly, the Web was filled with recipes for the Korean meal.
The movie clearly gained enough momentum as awards season rolled along to become the first film from South Korea to receive best picture and best international film consideration at the Oscars, where it was nominated for six awards.
“It’s a little strange, but it’s not a big deal,” Bong told Vulture last year. “The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local.”
Well, it turns out the academy was able to get over that one-inch hurdle. On Sunday, “Parasite” made history by becoming the first foreign language film to win best picture in the Oscars’ 92 years of existence.
Not to belabor the point, but that’s a big deal. The academy has tried in recent years to become more diverse in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, a hashtag that appeared in 2015 to point to the lack of diversity ingrained in the Oscars. There’s still much work to be done, evidenced by the fact that no female filmmakers were nominated this year for best director. But now we have the knowledge that anyone, anywhere can be awarded best picture.
That’s a start.
Elahe Izadi contributed to this report.