Though many predicted it could happen (and many hoped that it would), it was still a massive surprise when Parasite won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the recent 92nd Academy Awards. Parasite immediately made history by becoming the first international film to win Best Picture as well as being the first South Korean film to receive recognition from the Academy. As well as winning Best Picture, Parasite also won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film.
Parasite has also won other numerous accolades, including the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Parasite was directed by Bong Joon-ho, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Han Jin-won. The film stars Choi Woo-shik, Jang Hye-jin, Park So-dam, Cho Yeo-jeong, Song Kang-ho and Lee Sun-kyun.
Parasite originally premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d’Or with a unanimous vote – the first film to do so since 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Colour. After its release, Parasite went on to gross over $206 million worldwide, becoming one of South Korea’s highest grossing films.
As with any film that wins Best Picture, Parasite will be thoroughly analysed and critiqued by audiences to determine whether it is a worthy winner. Previous recipients of Best Picture have been found wanting and declared as unworthy – so, will Parasite join those unlucky films?
After viewing Parasite, it would be very difficult to class it as an unworthy winner as Parasite is such a well-made, complex and watchable film. Perfectly calibrated and choreographed, every frame of Parasite is perfect and precise. There are so many small details in this film, from its symmetry to its social commentary, that it is a film that audiences should definitely deem a worthy Best Picture recipient.
1. Talented ensemble cast
Though it can happen, it is slightly unusual for a Best Picture nominee not to also have at least one acting nomination. Parasite did not gain any acting nominations at the Academy Awards. While this could be seen as a negative, suggesting that the performances in Parasite are not as good as the other nominees, this may actually be to do with the fact that there is not one performance that outshines another in this film – rather the cast all make up one of the best ensemble casts of all the Best Picture nominees demonstrated by the film’s Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
Each cast member perfectly portrays their role and encapsulates their character with aplomb. This is what helps elevate the film even more – the audience is not straining to see the character through the actor as can sometimes be the case with other films. Great characters are another facet of what can make a film appealing, and Parasite reminds us that these characters do not even need to be particularly likeable. In truth, there may not necessarily be one character that we are really rooting for in Parasite. But in that is a cleverness that means that audiences are invested in all the characters’ outcomes and it is also shows how they are all intricately linked.
2. It marks an important step forward for diversity
Parasite made history when it became the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Not only was this an incredible achievement in general terms, as it is for any film that wins the accolade, but Parasite’s win was even more phenomenal because of what it represents.
There has been much talk and many headlines that have lamented the lack of diversity at awards shows, and in particular the Academy Awards, with hashtags such as #oscarssowhite trending. There was a lack of nominations for minority groups at the 92nd Academy Awards, and many believed that this meant that a foreign language film would never be able to scoop the top award.
Parasite’s win has propelled foreign language films into the spotlight. Audiences who have never even considered going to see a foreign language film are now lining up to get tickets to go and see the film, as well as now seeking out other foreign language films to watch. This type of visibility can only be a great thing, allowing audiences to experience other cultures which in turn leads to acceptance and visibility.
3. It seamlessly blends genres
These days almost every film can be called a combination of genres or categorised into a sub-genre – romantic comedy, psychological thriller, action horror to name but a few. Films may even begin as one genre before evolving into a different one. This blending of genres is certainly familiar to audiences, but this method is not always done seamlessly. Ideally blending genres should be something that happens smoothly and coherently, in a way that means that it is not too jarring for the audience or that it makes the film feel disjointed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and the result can be a film that ends up being quite disorientating and confusing to watch. Alternatively, the mix of genres can be something that audiences find disagreeable and becomes an issue for which the film is criticised for.
Another example of a Best Picture nominee that mixed genres was Jojo Rabbit, a film that began very much as a satirical comedy but that later evolved into a much more dramatic and emotional film. Some audiences criticised this evolution of genres and felt that the change was too abrupt. This was not the case however for Parasite.
Parasite is a film that has been called a mystery thriller, a family drama, a tragicomedy, a black comedy, and a contemporary horror. The truth is that Parasite is all these subgenres and possibly even a few more. And what is also true is that Parasite involves dozens of tonal and genre shifts, but these shifts are done flawlessly and even though audiences will no doubt notice some of them, they are not jarring in any way. Parasite’s transitions between multiple genres is an integral part of the film, mirroring the transitions of the characters and of life itself. Blending genres is something that Bong often does in his films and is a trademark of his filmmaking.
4. It has universal themes that resonate with all audiences
Class struggles, the divide between rich and poor, family ties and ambition are just a few of the themes shown in Parasite – a film which is rich with both overt and underlying themes. And these themes are most certainly universal, not only to individual audience members but to audiences from around the world. Though Parasite has many trademarks that can be attributed to it being a South Korean film, it also feels like it could be set anywhere in the world. Bong recently talked about how Parasite could easily be set in London, after he saw how expensive it was to buy a house there, or in New York because there were so many homeless people and yet others lived in million-dollar apartments.
Parasite also uses its characters to further express its socioeconomic themes and class themes. Neither the poor nor the rich family are made out to be the villains of the piece. Though the poor family are essentially conmen, they are not bad people and though the rich family are privileged, they are not evil or cruel. In this way, Bong lets the audience ruminate on both how we view people and how we treat others based on our preconceptions of how they should fit into society.
As well as the more obvious themes, there are the clever underlying themes used by Bong that also help illustrate the film’s overall themes. For example, throughout there is the theme of the importance of our senses and in particular the sense of smell – something that becomes a key part of the film in the third act.
5. Incredible cinematography
There is one particular sequence in Parasite that can be found at the end of the first act. It is a montage that lasts for around five minutes and is made up of over fifty different shots. During this montage, the audience is given a story within the story and shown multiple Easter eggs and small, rich details that propel the story forward without any unnecessary scenes or expository dialogue. That is just one example of many of how Parasite uses incredible cinematography.
Cinematography is also used to reflect the film’s themes. Scenes with the rich family are flooded with natural light and sunshine, whilst scenes with the poor family are much darker and use artificial light. This was done to show the difference between the families’ situations – the rich family can afford to live in a beautiful house on a hill with floor to ceiling windows whereas the poor family live in a sub level basement apartment. The rich family can see the sun all day whilst the poor family only get glimpses of it.
Light is used to great effect throughout the film to reflect the families’ differences. Another scene which depicts this is when the members of Ki-taek’s family have to run through a rainstorm back to their house from the Park’s home. As they run back to their apartment, the streetlights gradually change from the expensive LED lights of the wealthy neighbourhood to the poor neighbourhood’s red lamps.
Parasite’s cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo and Director Bong worked together closely to produce a film that uses so many elements of cinematography in a way that is so effective and impressive. From mirroring shots to the almost balletic rhythm of certain sequences, from sharp angles to smooth parallels – Parasite more than deserves its Best Picture win for its cinematography alone.
6. The storytelling
Parasite may have picked up the Best Picture award, but it also won Best Screenplay. This is testament to the intriguing story that Bong came up with, as well as the fantastic screenplay co-written by him and Han Jin-won. A great screenplay is the first step to producing a film with compelling storytelling, and Bong further enhanced this with great direction.
Parasite has three very clear acts, which makes it a fluid and coherent watch for the audience – even though multiple events are happening with multiple characters all the time, the audience is never too far removed from the core of the story. Bong keeps the audience at the heart of what is going on, yet he also keeps the audience guessing with twists and turns. To use these two contradictory methods in harmony with each other is an extremely clever feat of storytelling, and the result is a film that is endlessly engaging.
7. The sharp social commentary
Intricately weaved throughout Parasite, is a compelling message of social commentary. At its heart, Parasite is a parable about the struggle between classes and the ever-growing divide between rich and poor. Bong has used similar themes in all his previous works, but Parasite was a unique filming experience because Bong had never focused any of his stories on a rich family before as well as a poor one, preferring to just follow the lives of poorer characters. Bong explained, “This is our first time filming rich characters. Even in Mother and The Host, my films have always featured poor characters. This was our first time filming a rich family and a rich house. Even Captain America…he was dressed in rags in Snowpiercer!”
Bong also drew directly from his own experiences – he too tutored a for a rich family whilst in college. He said of the film, “The sequence that depicts when he enters the house was pretty similar to what I experienced. I grew up in a middle-class family that’s in between the poor and the rich family in this film, but despite that, when I first entered, I had this very eerie and unfamiliar sense of this house. Actually, they had a sauna on their second floor – at the time it was quite shocking to me!”
The social commentary of Parasite is also at the very heart of the film in regard to the title of the film itself. Who or what we believe to be the ‘parasite’ can speak to how society treats certain individuals – is the parasite the poor family? The rich family? Both? Or is Parasite a reference to something else entirely?
Bong uses Parasite as a way to express his observations of the class divide in his home country and how it is something that only seems to be getting worse rather than better, but the truth is that Parasite is probably relevant to almost every country in the world. Bong said, “I think that this film is talking about something that we all feel, and we are all aware of, but we just never talk about. That’s what it is showing on the big screen.”