The phenomenon Parasite
According to official UK box office data, Parasite debuted nationwide with £1.09m from 137 cinemas for the weekend period. The film opened before the Oscars ceremony, in which it was awarded four prizes, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. Previously, Bong Joon Ho's social satire conquered Cannes Palm d'Or and American Spirits Awards. Shall we conclude that both the UK and the United States are finally appreciating non-English speaking movies?
In my opinion, it is still early to say.
Differently from Ho's previous feature Okja, Parasite is still not on Netflix or any other online platform. It seems that Parasite is decisively walking its unique way, as many others Oscar contenders are available on Netflix. Titles such as The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes have had its premiere on the big screen but now can be seen at home. They also were granted with a massive marketing campaign, whilst Parasite marketing campaign was a labour of love of a single woman, Mara Buxbaum. Why so many people ran to the cinemas lately to appreciate a South Korean movie?
Some viewers might have been deceived by its title and associated it with the coronavirus. If so, it was an ironic casualty and/or a marketing lucky strike. But rarely luck overcomes quality and more rarely lucky phenomenon lasts long. Parasite is much more than a fever.
The title itself defines the duality behind the storyline because as the story unfolds we are unable to identify who is the parasite: is it the poor family that deceives the rich family? Is it the rich family that exploits the poor? Or is the hidden lover that lives in the house? Anyway, more important than "defining roles" is to understand the message it is trying to spread. The idea is stuck on the meaning of the word "parasite". The parasite attaches itself to the creature it is benefiting from and doesn't allow it to die. Its death means that the parasite will die too.
Parasite is an arthouse movie very accessible and commercial due to its universal truth. Although Bong Joon Ho criticises modern South Korean society, anyone can identify with it, even if you know little about South Korea. It is a typical case of a particular reality that turns into a universal issue. In essence, Parasite the movie is a satire on capitalism. Hence its universality.
Probably another factor of the film's popularity is its witty humour. The underwear in the car as part of a remarkable plan to get a job, and the best spot in the poor house to get free wireless are just a few examples. Visually, the film is also very rich and complex, portraying with excellence complicated scenographic moments such as the flood scene.
Maybe it is still early to say that UK and American broad audiences have surrendered to movies with subtitles, but I am sure you have. Catch the Parasite in a crowded cinema soon!