Will ‘Parasite’ Ever Be Dubbed in English? Bong Joon-ho Called Subtitles a ‘One-Inch Barrier’

The movie Parasite has become a worldwide phenomenon, especially after sweeping the Academy Awards and taking home the highly coveted Best Picture award in 2020. It made history as the first non-English film to earn an Oscar.

Plenty of people saw the movie before the Oscars and even more were inspired to see it after. However, one crucial detail is holding some potential fans back from adding it to their must-watch list. Parasite is a Korean film with English subtitles.

This fact is causing many to question — would award-winning director Bong Joon-ho ever consider dubbing the movie in English, or do those skeptics need to get over it and handle the subtitles?

Parasite
Park So-dam and Choi Woo-sik in Parasite | Neon CJ Entertainment

The ‘Parasite’ director called subtitles a ‘one-inch barrier’

Parasite may be one of the most popular foreign films of the moment, but it’s far from the only movie in a language other than English that’s worth watching. “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Joon-ho said during his Golden Globes acceptance speech. Parasite clinched Best Foreign Language film there.

The implication of his words was clear — the subtitles aren’t the issue, it’s people’s lack of willingness to deal with them. But Parasite isn’t the first foreign film to break the barrier. The New York Times reported that several other movies over the past decade have become popular despite subtitles, including Roma (2018), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Amelie (2001), and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000).

There’s an intense debate over ‘subbing’ versus ‘dubbing’

Jo Yeo-jeong in Parasite
Jo Yeo-jeong in Parasite | Neon CJ Entertainment

The so-called “sub vs. dub” debate is fraught with emotion. People who prefer subtitles insist that dubbing is a costly, unnecessary adaptation that rarely captures the emotional nuance of the original actors. The timing often doesn’t match up either, which results in an awkward visual effect that anime fans are all too familiar with.

Pro-subtitles viewers argue that the subtitles don’t detract from the action on-screen and science seems to back them up. “When you’re watching a subtitled movie, you have to be engaged with the screen and be more attached, but once you engage with that, you can have as rich an experience as if it were your language,” a cognitive psychologist told The Times.

But those who prefer dubbing take the opposite stance. They say subtitles don’t get the whole point across — much of the dialogue must be edited down and altered to match the new language. Plus, not everyone can read quickly or even read at all. Subtitled movies in foreign languages are inaccessible to these individuals, which takes the debate to a whole other level.

Bong Joon Ho's Parasite
L-R: Choi Woo-Shik, Song Kang-ho, Chang Hyae-jin and Park So-dam in Parasite | Neon CJ Entertainment

‘Parasite’ will probably never be dubbed in English

Though Bong Joon-ho didn’t explicitly say he was anti-dubbing, his pro-subtitle comments lead fans to believe that Parasite will probably never get dubbed into English. And considering the movie’s success so far, it doesn’t sound like it needs to be.

The subtitled version of Parasite will begin streaming exclusively on Hulu on April 8. It’s worth leaping that one-inch barrier to give it a try.