Parasite’s Oscar Victory Gives Hope to Asian Cinema While Highlighting Inequality

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a witty and thrilling tale underlining the desperate nature of socio-economic inequalities. It engages a globally relatable topic with a clever plot brought to life by brilliant individual performances. The film also broke new ground as the first foreign film to win the Oscar for Best Picture for the first time in 92 years.

Korean cinema is now being widely hailed in Asia, inspiring pride within creatives who now have a trailblazer to admire and emulate. Now that the film became the first non-English film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, the Chinese reaction has been largely positive, with many touched and motivated by Parasite’s success.

After Parasite was first vaulted into the spotlight winning the Palme d’Or at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, its popularity in China soared. By August 2019, the film had become the top ranked movie in the Chinese mainland, earning an 8.9/10 on Chinese rating site Douban from more than 220,000 reviews, while the relevant hashtag generated 320 million views on Weibo.

However, Parasite was removed from the Douban rating platform, and its screening was cancelled at a Chinese film festival in July of 2019. There has been no specific information on a cinematic release in China other than iQiyi‘s statement that the film will be available on their platform, with the release date unknown.

Regardless, given the current COVID-19 outbreak, Chinese cinemas have been closed to avoid further transmission. Parasite may have an opportunity to follow “Lost in Russia” and skip the cinematic debut in favor of an online streaming channel.

Another Korean film, Train to Busan, was restricted in China in 2016, but it was very different than Parasite. Train to Busan is a horror movie featuring zombies and more of a gore factor while Parasite’s horror is more subtle and psychological.

Gao Xiaosong, a Chinese director and composer, who is Chairman of Alibaba Entertainment Strategic Committee and AliMusic, commended the film’s quality even before it was given the ultimate recognition by the Best Picture award at the Oscars.

The theme of class conflict can resonate with people around the world, trascending borders. According to the GINI coefficient, a widely used metric to measure income inequality in countries, China actually has a rating of 46.5, compared to South Korea’s 35.7. The higher value means greater inequality of income distribution, so Chinese audiences could connect with Kim family and their ruthless and desperate struggle for a better life. The evolving value of human labor due to the fourth industrial revolution could potentially result in inequality increases. According to the IMF, the average GINI coefficient in Asia rose from 36 in 1990 to 40 by 2013.

On the chinese media discussion site, Jiliuwang, film blogger Yu Ni wrote, “The Korean government is not in an adversarial relationship with the movie industry … It believes that society can only progress healthily with movies’ inquisitiveness about social problems. A society with healthy development can in turn nurture a prosperous movie industry.”

While Chinese cinema fans can circumvent their internet censors to access the movie, only time will tell if the movie will be shown in China to wider audiences.