'Parasite' Oscars Win Is a Triumph for Korean Culture

      February 12, 2020 13:34

      Bong Joon-ho's black comedy "Parasite" won four Academy Awards -- best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best international feature film -- surprising and delighting audiences around the world. This is a landmark achievement in modern Korean history and the feat demonstrates that Korea is home to more than smartphones, cars and manufactured bands. Bong and his cast single-handedly elevated the global status of Korean culture.

      When motion pictures were first introduced in Korea in the late Chosun dynasty, one newspaper described the western invention as "ghastly" and wondered, "When will we ever learn to master this art?" But on Sunday, a Korean film clinched the biggest movie prize in North America, whose movie industry accounts for 30 percent of the global motion picture market scaled at W50 trillion (US$1=W1,184). Many Koreans were euphoric as they watched history being made at the Oscars.

      The Academy Awards symbolize the pride of Americans in their own culture and have been heavily fixated on movies made by white people in English, with foreign films given their own category which, bizarrely, Bong also won. Only fairly recently have the Oscars started recognizing the achievements of non-English-speaking countries in the main categories, but notable winners came from France with "La Vie en Rose" and "The Artist." That is why it would have seemed harder for a Korean film to win an Oscar than for a Korean writer to win the Nobel Prize. Bong not only jumped these hurdles but rewrote Hollywood history.

      More important still is that "Parasite" is not a big-budget blockbuster with CGI upped to the max but homes in on distinctly Korean social phenomena and domestic lives. It dissects the country's class struggle with plenty of jokes about parochial phenomena like food fads, and it is precisely because of this that it seems to have struck a universal chord. Instead of mindlessly emulating global trends, the film wears its cultural identity on its sleeve, which is why Korea can now hold its head up high on the international cultural scene. May many more Bongs gain worldwide attention.

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