To say that South Korea was happy their locally-produced black humor film “Parasite” from director Bong Joon-ho won both Best International Feature Film and Best Picture, among others, at the 92nd Academy Awards this past Sunday is a gross understatement. Nationwide celebrations erupted this week, with government officials joining in the revelry to congratulate Bong, his cast and crew on their historical triumph at the Oscars. But the scooping of four Academy Awards by “Parasite” is also being observed by other quarters around the world who realize it for what it is: a game-changing moment for the world’s film distributors.
The Hollywood Reporter tells us that movie directors and distribution firms from primarily non-English-speaking countries and territories are now looking at Bong Joon-ho’s award-winning film “Parasite” as the model by which their own productions might be recognized in the international stage. Analysts from the European Film Market which opens in Berlin later this month opine that particularly for Asian filmmakers, they will not only be inspired by “Parasite” to dream big with their own efforts, but will also examine and dissect all facets of the production to find the “magic recipe” that wins Academy Awards.
But one factor for the surprise success of “Parasite” is rather well-known to global audiences by now: the mainstreaming of subtitles in visual media. While decades ago English-speaking viewers, especially Americans, would find reading through English subtitles of a foreign film to be tedious, years of watching streaming media like on Netflix, with its multiple-language subs, has sold the convention to many, such that they have gotten used to seeing onscreen action while simultaneously reading lines of text down below. Miky Lee of CJ Entertainment, one of Bong’s distributors for “Parasite,” notes the disappearance of the foreign-language barrier in media viewing saying, “Netflix has trained everybody to watch subtitles in their living room, and now Parasite in the movie theater.”
“Parasite,” which tells the story of a middle-income South Korean family whose members craft unrelated false identities to get all of them hired by a wealthy household, was not only an awards darling – aside from the Oscars it won in the Golden Globes, SAG and BAFTA – it also rocked the box office in Korea and overseas. Its latest total gross is $170 million against a modest $11 million budget, pretty much confirming it as blockbuster.
Image from The New Yorker