Parasite, directed by Bong Joon Ho, is a masterful South Korean black comedy film that has taken the media world by storm. After sweeping the 2020 Academy Awards in four categories, people are still talking about Parasite since its premiere in May 2019. at the Cannes Film Festival. It has achieved the monumental milestone of being the first South Korean film to win any award at the Oscars, ever. I have watched the movie twice and consider myself a big fan. Yet, I am not the only person to believe that Parasite’s success at the Academy Awards serves as an ironic reminder of the film’s true message.
Social and class equality form the basis of Parasite’s plot. A poorer family, the Kims, work their way into each being employed by the wealthy Parks, and the two families start to become interdependent before the tragic ending. The Kims depend on the Parks for their money, and the Parks depend on the Kims for their labor. Bong Joon Ho’s brilliant storyline highlights the disparity between destitute and extraneously rich families, ultimately satirizing the traditional rags to riches dream heard in developed nations.
But the Academy Awards themselves stand in direct contradiction to the film’s themes: the Oscars is traditionally a night of famous actors and actresses, big shot film producers and directors, and glitzy dresses and tuxedoes. The gift bags given to nominees this year, created by Distinctive Assets, had a total value of around $225,000 each, its 80 items including a gold vape pen, a 12-day yacht cruise, and $20,000 in matchmaking services. According to company founder Lash Fary, they only deliver the bags to “about 25 people”, meaning that they have to freedom to gift “the most insanely priced things.” It seems that the Academy Awards and the high cost of production and attending further illustrate the frustrating path of wealth within a capitalist society that preaches the merits of the American Dream that at the same time neglects the lower class.
Parasite seeks to illuminate the divide between extreme wealth and the stories of society’s downcast, impoverished, and displaced. Even the film is not free of complicated relationships–it was produced by CJ ENM, one of South Korea’s family-run large businesses. Director Bong Joon Ho suggests that within Parasite “no one is guilty–or perhaps, all are guilty.” Examined on a broader level, everyone in greater society is guilty in a way–we are all guilty of ignoring those who are different than us while simultaneously engaging in the exploitation of their stories. While capitalism, class, and society are intertwined in complex ways, Parasite’s positive reception indicates that at least we are somewhat self aware.