Parasite causes a glorious upset at the Oscars

Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or-winning satire comes up trumps at the Oscars, beating bookies’ favourite 1917 to the top prize. It’s the first foreign-language film ever to do so

Article by Jamie Dunn | 10 Feb 2020
  • Parasite

Critics often make the mistake of talking about the Oscars as if they are some barometer of quality filmmaking, but very rarely does a truly great film take the top prize. For every Godfather Part II or The Apartment there are many more drab prestige pics like The King’s SpeechShakespeare in LoveA Beautiful Mind, Argo or Crash that quickly fade into Oscar obscurity.

Yet, much like a stopped clock, the Academy voters can sometimes surprise you by getting it right and rewarding a film of style and substance. And in the case of the 92nd edition of this awards extravaganza, they’ve given their top prize to the picture that happens to be the best film of the year: Bong Joon-ho’s virtuosic class satire Parasite.

What makes Parasite’s Best Picture win all the more remarkable is that it’s a South Korean movie, making it the first film not in the English language to take top honours. No one can be more surprised by Parasite’s win than its director. Ever since pundits began predicting the film might break out of the Best International Film ghetto and challenge for the Best Picture prize, Bong has been talking down his chances. “The Oscars are not an international film festival,” he said when asked about Korean cinemas’ lack of Oscar nominations. “They’re very local.” And when Parasite won the Best Foreign Language Film, the director playfully joked: “Once [Americans] overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

It seems that Academy voters took the hint. Not only did they award Parasite Best Picture and Best International Film, they also showered Bong with two other major prizes: Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.

Picking up the latter prize, Bong was charmingly complimentary to the directors he beat to the award, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sam Mendes and Todd Phillips.

“When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese's films,” said Bong. “Just to be nominated was a huge honour. I never thought I would win.

“When people in the U.S. were not familiar with my films, Quentin [Tarantino] always put my films on his list. He's here, thank you so much. Quentin, I love you.

“And Todd [Phillips] and Sam [Mendes], great directors that I admire. If the Academy allows, I would like to get a Texas chainsaw, split the award into five and share it with all of you.”

He signed off with by saying simply, “I will drink until next morning, thank you.”

Does this represent a seachange in the Academy voters’ thinking? Will foreign language films now routinely compete in the main category? We wouldn’t be so sure.

After all, the Best Picture win for Moonlight in 2017 suggested that the Academy might be ready to embrace both art cinema and films told from a black perspective. Last year’s win for Green Book, a deeply conservative buddy movie whose idea of race relations was outdated by about half a century, showed that this was still the same old Academy. Still, with Parasite's four awards this year and three awards for Alfonso Cuarón's Roma last year (including Best Director for Cuarón), there are reasons to be optimistic.

For the full list of Oscar winners, click here

Read our interviews with Bong from 2017 and 2014