“Parasite” and the One Inch Jump

Why this foreign film continues to break barriers


Fourth Estate/Billy Ferguson

“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” said Bong Joon-ho at the 2020 Golden Globes. As director of the award-winning film “Parasite,” he stated that this is only the beginning of foreign films gaining recognition in Hollywood.

“Parasite” won the Academy Award for Best Picture and became the first foreign film to win this prestigious award in the academy’s 92-year history. Alongside its winning streak at several prominent film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival, the movie has attracted over 150 million people to theaters around the world since its release in November of 2019.

The movie is set in South Korea, mainly Seoul and Jeonju, where the Kim family survives by doing odd jobs and creatively scheming to put food on the table. They strategically target the affluent Park family by arranging for their former housekeeper and driver to be fired, while also convincing them that they need a tutor for their children. The Kims fill every one of these positions, unbeknownst to the Parks. 

It would be easy for audiences to look down on the Kim family and others for leeching off of the Parks, but one may excuse their means of survival after viewing their lifestyle in a crowded district in Seoul. 

After the Kim family secures their new jobs, they discover that there is more than meets the eye in the modern and spacious home in the wealthier district of Seoul. There is an air of familiarity and comfort that almost eases the viewer until it is disrupted by a well-kept secret that has been living beneath them.

Bong Joon-ho captures this dark narrative while making visual commentary about how resourceful and quick-witted poorer families have to be to survive. There is no antagonist in this film. It is simply about a series of events due to circumstance and choice — or even a lack thereof. The film follows well-meaning characters going after their goals to help their family, while overlooking the dangers and consequences of their actions. 

The movie excels at showing the lengths each character was willing to go to for the greater good of their families. Joon-ho illustrates beautiful scenes that showcase fear, anger — and above all self-sacrificing love. 

This movie did a wonderful job incorporating humor while maintaining tension during the more serious, blood-rushing scenes laced throughout the movie. There are multiple elements in this film that acknowledge Korean culture, but the film also speaks to the universality of humanity. It illustrates the determination to stay alive and thrive in the world, even if one has been dealt a poor deck of cards. 

The mood and pace of the story shift effortlessly and keeps the audience engaged whether through action or comedic relief. “Parasite” can be enjoyed for both its story and cinematography. It defies the “one-inch tall” barrier and draws in film enthusiasts from every part of the world.