The Breakthrough of Asian Cinema


The movie Parasite talks about wealth disparity, following the very different lives of the wealthy Park family and the impoverished Kim family. Photo by CJ ENM Corporation and Barunson E&A.

Amy Castellon, Contributing Writer

Bong Joon-ho, director of the hit 2019 film Parasite, said, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films… I think we use only just one language – the cinema.”

Seeing Asian leads telling stories on the big screen was overdue by Hollywood for quite some time. Released in 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was one of the first films that managed to cross over to western audiences and is currently the highest-grossing foreign-language movie of all time. The beautiful choreography of the fight scenes is what made the film so impressionable to audiences. However, since 2000 the Asian community were wondering when the next Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would make it on the big screen.

It wasn’t until 2018 when Crazy Rich Asians was released that created a wave of talk from audiences due to it being the first modern film with an all-Asian cast. Though the talk of this film slowly drifted away, it did manage to crack open the door for future films with Asian representation. Since then, there were multiple films and TV shows that appeared and made a grand impression on western media and its audience and created history.

The novel Crazy Rich Asians was adapted into a 2018 film which was highly successful and notable for its all-Asian cast.

Eternals director Chloe Zhao became the first Asian woman to win best director at the Oscars, the hit South Korean TV show Squid Games became the most-watched TV show of all time on Netflix, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was the first Marvel film to have an Asian superhero as well as an Asian led cast. However, the film that managed to completely break down the barrier was Bong Joon- ho’s 2019 film Parasite.

Parasite talks about wealth disparity, following the very different lives of the wealthy Park family and the impoverished Kim family. From this simple description, one might think to themselves, “what makes this film so special that it got so much recognition and praise from audiences in the US?” Well, it’s the sudden shift in mood that occurs at the beginning of the film as well as its commentary on capitalism that no one expected to come from it that grabbed the attention of so many viewers.

It’s the film’s overall message about capitalism that gained it much recognition. When the Kim family receives a complaint from the pizza company they fold boxes for, they worry about how much compensation will be reduced from their pay. The talk of money between the characters in this family is very prominent in their dialogue as they discuss where their next source of income will be coming from. On the other hand, the Park family doesn’t bring up money a lot since it’s not a concern for them. They know they will always have more to spend so their dialogue doesn’t dwell on it.

This contrast of dialogue about money between the two parties suggests an immense problem in capitalist societies today. Even the two-floor house that the Park family resides in is its own symbol of a hierarchy. Both groups interact mainly on the first floor throughout the film, while the Park family usually goes up to the second floor to go to their bedrooms if they aren’t already out of the house. The Kims are mainly seen on the first floor of the house and the maid’s husband, whose name is never revealed, has lived in the underground bunker of the house for four years. The house itself carefully shows the audience that the wealthy are on top, the middle class in the middle, and the poor all the way at the bottom, reflecting the divisions of capitalism.

Parasite’s brilliant storytelling and hidden symbolisms are what make this film a true spectacle. I became cemented in cinema history by winning the 2020 Oscar for Best Picture, making it the first international film to win this top prize. The cast of Parasite was recognized for their talents during the SAG awards which is a huge step for the Asian community. It was also a proud moment where the hard work of Asian actors and directors in Hollywood were finally being given their spotlight after years of being cast aside.