How “Parasite” Swept the Oscars

Bong Joon-ho made film history



On February 9th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their picks for the best movies, actors, directors and more at the 92nd annual Oscar Awards. Among these winners were the expected Hollywood elites that have dominated the industry and award show alike. However, there was one outlier- a Korean dark comedy- and it managed to make history.

Back in October 2019, writer and director Bong Joon-ho broke his two year silence with Parasite, and it was immediately deemed a success. The film follows the Kims, a poor clan desperate for work, as they pose as various domestic workers for the Parkers, a rich, ignorant family. The Kims succeed in fiending off the Parker’s wealth, until an unexpected twist brings the whole plot around. Full of complex social commentary and complemented by outstanding performances and cinematography, the movie thrilled audiences and stunned critics.

Clearly, Parasite is a great movie, but what sets it apart from others? Furthermore, what did it do in order to be the first international film to win Best Picture? In order to truly understand the scope of the film’s success, one must look at the individual awards it won.


Best Director

To have your fellow nominees bear the last names Tarantino, Scorsese and Mendes must be beyond nerve wracking. Bong Joon-ho, while acclaimed in Korea, had not made a significant impression in American cinema. His 2013 dystopian film Snowpiercer was successful in the states, but more through the screenplay than the directing. This production came with a clash with Harvey Weinstein over the cut of the film, in which many sided with the well known producer instead of the foreign director (until 2018’s allegations against Weinstein).

But coming into the production of Parasite, Joon-ho took no shortcuts in his role as director. Working closely with the actors he perfected the development of each character and the delivery of each line. Upon signing on to the film, many of the actors and actresses had no knowledge of their roles, they simply trusted Joon-ho to direct them well. Accompanying these performances were complex shots of the beautifully constructed sets, mostly atypical vertical shots that add  to the esthetic of each scene.

Overall, Bong Joon-ho’s involvement in every aspect of the film led to his reception of this award.


Best Screenplay

Behind the acting, special effects and multi-million dollar set of Parasite lies its strong foundation- the writing. Written by Joon-ho himself, the screenplay is a masterpiece, knowing when to rise and fall with suspense and action. Additionally, the well-placed dark humor functions to lighten the mood and isolate certain characteristics of various roles, an odd but effective method of maintaining the story line. The humor was so important to Joon-ho that he changed certain details of jokes when translating to english so they would be better understood. This humor also makes it hard to place the film within one genre. While its writing is comedic, the film is suspenseful in nature, crossing genre lines and separating itself into what seems like two different movies (similar to Hitchcock’s Psycho).

The screenplay behind this hit was far more complex than its fellow nominees. While the others did contain impressive writing, they were deemed entertaining yet typical. Combining thorough character development and clever humor, there was only one clear winner. Parasite’s uniqueness shown through, and was given this impressive title.


Best International Film 

Once you overcome the one inch barrier of subtitles, you will discover so many more amazing films.

— Bong Joon-ho, Golden Globes

From award show to award show, Parasite was given this title over and over again. While an accolade of any type is impressive, fans were constantly disappointed that the film continued to be seen only as a “foreign work”. At the Golden Globes, Joon-ho called out the audience for its distaste towards foreign film in general. They received the Oscar for Best international Film with great gratitude, and went on to break the boundary they had just discussed.


Best Picture

The most prestigious of all awards in film, the title of Best Picture can jumpstart careers, introduce new celebrities and change the industry as a whole. These years nominees were even in quality. With a 3 hour mob masterpiece, a one shot war movie and more, predictions were inconsistent and with one another. As the night progressed, tensions rose as Parasite gained speed with win after win. As Jane Fonda stepped up to the microphone and opened the envelope, her face radiated with surprise as she read out “Parasite”.

At that moment, history was made. In the 92 years of Oscar history, a foreign language film had never won Best Picture. It was an accomplishment beyond measure. It was the first film to win Best Picture without acting nominations since Slumdog Millionare,  the first South Korean film to ever win an Oscar, and director Bong Joon-ho even tied Walt Disney for most Oscars in a single night.

It’s odd that the public agrees with the Best Picture choice, but this year there is little discrepancy. The hype-proof thriller made history, and opened the door to a world of possibility for foreign cinema.