‘Parasite’: Why the 4 Oscars Are a Long-Overdue Honor for South Korean Film

While many Americans see Hollywood as the sun around which the rest of the film industry revolves, Bollywood, in fact, is the world’s biggest film industry. In addition to the giant film industries in Nigeria and India, South Korea has had a burgeoning movie business for years. And yet, the United States has been relatively slow to pick up on other countries’ greatness in film. The South Korean film Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, had an incredible night at the 2020 Oscars. That’s a good sign, but in general, Americans are only barely picking up on the art of foreign film–especially South Korean film.

Great South Korean film existed before ‘Parasite’

Parasite director
Parasite director Bong Joon-ho poses with his Oscar | Jean-Baptiste Lacroix / AFP via Getty Images

The Star Tribue, a Minneapolis-based newspaper, recently pointed out that for the most part, the only “South Korean movies that make it to these shores” are thrillers about killers, excuse the rhyme. You’d think “almost everyone in that country is a murderer,” Chris Hewitt writes.

“It probably says more about Americans’ taste than it does about South Korean movies,” Hewitt argues. “Korea does make other genres, but we hardly ever see them.”

Movies like Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and other gory flicks “followed that blood-spattered suit.” Oldboy was the film, Hewitt writes, to start a wave of interest in Korean movies in the U.S.

The Oscars have not recognized South Korean movies before Bong Joon Ho’s 2019 film

But, he continues, “astonishingly, if we date the start of the wave to 2003’s Oldboy, it took 17 years of consistent South Korean excellence for the Oscars to finally take notice, with Parasite.” (Parasite won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film).

And that time lag that doesn’t mean South Korea hasn’t been producing movies or making quality films–they have. Hollywood is just pretty bad at seeing outside its own bubble. (Not to mention, members of the Academy have recently stated they dislike reading subtitles).

Parasite cast
Executive producers Min Heoi Heo and Miky Lee, producer Kwak Sin-ae, and So-dam Park accept the Best Picture award for Parasite at the Oscars | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

What it really means, as Hewitt argues, is that “a lot of great movies have failed to get Academy Awards attention.”

Walter Chaw of the New York Times wrote that Parasite‘s win is “merely Hollywood recognizing, very belatedly, South Korea’s amazing film industry — which has been making superlative films for decades.”

Hewitt offers a list of South Korean films that they should see in addition to Parasite, to encourage his American readers to step outside their comfort zone a bit. They include: Train to Busan, a” thrill-a-minute movie in which the zombie apocalypse happens just as an absentee father is escorting his daughter home;” Burning, a “creepy drama;” Oasis, a “devastating romance;” and The Handmaiden, a “psychosexual battle of wits,” among others.

We would add to this list: Joon-ho’s The Host (you’ll love it if the anti-capitalism from Parasite resonated with you), The President’s Last Bang (a classicly South Korean genre-bender), and Whispering Corridors (if you’re into horror).

‘Parasite’ winning Best Picture (and 3 other Academy Awards) is a good sign for Hollywood

Considering South Korean directors’ incredible body of work, it’s truly a shame that Parasite the “first Korean nominee for the international film … prize.” Ever. It’s the first time the Academy has nominated a South Korean film, even in the foreign film category.

No wonder Joon-ho called the Oscars a “local” film festival.

Even, so, the four Oscar wins are a good sign for progress. Sure, this year’s Academy Awards seemed to be overcompensating a bit for its reputation of being #SoWhite. But we do hope the fact that the Oscars gave four giant thumbs up to the South Korean film Parasite inspires more U.S. movie-goers to diversify their tastes.