How ‘Parasite’ Smashed Hollywood’s Misconceptions About Asians and Foreign Films

Koreans are plastered with plastic surgery, they’re manufactured and they lack originality. Asians aren’t expressive enough to be good actors. Asian culture is too bizarre and exotic to connect with an international audience.

These are just some of the misconceptions Hollywood has held onto for years regarding Asians in media and entertainment. 

And despite all of these stereotypes, in 2019, Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” made a splash in the Western cinema scene as no other film had done before.

 

In this powerful class allegory, Bong tells the story of two families — the haves and the have nots — an all-too-real tale of economic inequality and class discrimination.

To the surprise of many U.S. critics, this authentically South Korean film struck a powerful chord with international viewers, sweeping up countless prestigious accolades such as the Palme d’Or, Golden Globes award for best foreign-language film, Screen Actors Guild award for best cast in a motion picture, as well as several nominations for the highly-anticipated 2020 Academy awards. 

Much of the popularity of the film can be attributed to Bong’s creative vision and genius direction. The film is far more than just a great story; it’s also a cinematic work of art. But, the topic of “Parasite” also connects the audience through an international struggle people face everywhere — class discrimination and the struggle of upward mobility.

At a time when class outrage and social activism for economic equality is abundant on social media among even the younger generations, the heartbreaking message of “Parasite” has clearly resonated with audiences everywhere. And from this popularity, memes of Bong Joon-ho and “Jessica’s song” were born.

Through earning this status and popularity, “Parasite” has helped Asians in entertainment to gain visibility and add another dimension to a rather monolithic view of our community. The film proved that Asians can be brilliant actors, we can be creative and within different Asian societies, there is class diversity.

At the end of the day, the success of “Parasite” proves that great stories are great regardless of what language it’s in or what ethnicity tells it and clearly, the individual struggles we face are not too different from one another’s.

Even before details of an HBO mini-series “expanding” the story of “Parasite” could be revealed, fans rushed to Twitter to express their fears of the film becoming Americanized.

Perhaps for the first time, a large Western audience recognized that masterpieces like “Parasite” do not need to be remade in English for them to be good or for it to connect with their demographic.

Films based in Asia that have previously been spotlighted in the American mainstream media have largely been told through a Western lens. However, when the story is told through this tourist gaze, it very inevitably becomes exoticized.

Westernized takes on Asian cinema will never live up to its original counterparts and “Parasite” has proven that Korean, and other Asian, cinema deserve a seat at the table. In a way, this Korean movie, filmed entirely in a foreign language, has done things for the Asian American community even Asian American filmmakers have not yet been able to accomplish.

As a result, Bong’s rather depressing yet realistic take on what he portrays to be the myth of social mobility has become a beloved addition to 2020’s list of nominated films for the Academy Awards. Whether Hollywood is ready to accept a foreign language film as the winner of a “Best Picture” award is an entirely different story. However, even with its nomination, Bong has made history.

As Bong himself stated on stage after “Parasite” became the first Korean film to win a Golden Globe, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Hopefully, the members of the Academy have been listening. 

“Parasite” is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand with bonus features such as an exclusive Q&A with director Bong Joon-ho.

Feature image right via TNT

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