Critics have called Parasite a “flat-out masterpiece,” “the most important film of the year,” and “a must-see thriller.” Outside of film festivals and a few theaters in New York and Los Angeles, relatively few people have had the chance to see Bong Joon-ho’s acclaimed film. But the 1% who has can’t stop raving about it.
So you might be wondering what all the fuss is about, though if you know anything about the film, you’ve probably heard that audiences aren’t supposed to reveal too much after seeing it.
Below we break down everything you need to know (without spoilers!) about the cinematic South Korean sensation that’s breaking box office records in its initial limited release and generating early Oscar buzz.
What’s the big deal about ‘Parasite’?
There’s always a hot new film that film critics and journalists dub a “must-see.” But the excitement surrounding Parasite far surpasses the usual hype. The film’s mystique has taken on mythic proportions.
The buzz surrounding Parasite began back in May when it won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first South Korean film to do so. It then blazed through the international festival circuit, selling out screenings at Telluride and the Toronto International Film Festival, and flooring audiences at Fantastic Fest and the New York Film Festival.
It’s such a sensation that even other film directors are urging people to go see the movie. Josh and Benny Safdie, directors of another possible awards contender Uncut Gems, starring Adam Sandler, tweeted about Parasite, writing “Don’t ask questions, don’t read about it, just see it. Director Bong and his incredible cast will use your mind as a host as they show you how absurd our invisible rules are.”
Director Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar) tweeted, “This film is astounding. Bong Joon-Ho is peerless right now in genre storytelling. Dizzyingly efficient, funnier than anything, totally bananas, and deeply deeply sad.”
Who’s Bong Joon-ho?
Although he may not be a household name in the U.S. (though that could easily change), Bong is an international auteur and genre master whose films include the crime drama Memories of Murder (2003), the monster movie The Host (2006), and his first English-language film, the dystopian thriller Snowpiercer (2013).
With a $40 million budget, and an international cast including Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, and Octavia Spencer, Snowpiercer remains the most expensive Korean production ever. Bong followed that up with Okja (2017) a family-friendly adventure film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton that premiered (to controversy) in Cannes before streaming on Netflix (Cannes no longer permits Netflix’s films in competition).
Bong enjoys somewhat of a cult following among cineastes and on Twitter, where the hashtag #BongHive unites his fans.
What’s ‘Parasite’ about?
Parasite is a biting social satire about economic inequality seen through the symbiotic relationship between a destitute South Korean family, the Kims, and a wealthy family, the Parks. When the Kim children infiltrate the Park Family household, the power balance shifts is unexpected ways. (Again, no spoilers!)
Writing for Fortune recently, Isaac Feldberg calls Parasite “a home-invasion story tailor-made for our times” that “toggles between giddy farce, Hitchcockian suspense, and mordant slapstick.”
Why is there a spoiler alert?
Before Parasite premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Bong wrote an open letter to the press in which he pleaded with them to not reveal anything about the film that wasn’t in the film’s trailer.
“When you write a review for this film, please refrain as much as possible from revealing how the story unfolds after the brother and sister start working as private tutors, an event which is disclosed in the film’s trailers,” Bong wrote.
As with past films such as The Crying Game, Get Out, The Sixth Sense, and others, there’s a big twist that’s better experienced firsthand. The intrigue over the film’s cryptic—and secret—ending is fueling demand to see it.
What box office records has ‘Parasite’ set?
During its Oct. 11 opening weekend in New York and Los Angeles theaters, Parasite raked in an estimated $376,264 from just three theaters, posting a per-location average of $125,421—the highest of the year, the largest ever for an international film in the U.S., and the best per-screen haul since La La Land.
Every weekend screening of the film at the IFC Center in New York, some featuring Q&As with Bong and cast members Song Kang-Ho and Park So-dam, sold out on opening day.
When can audiences outside N.Y. and L.A. see ‘Parasite’?
Parasite will slowly make its way around the country, hitting seven markets—including San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Washington D.C. this week and 15 markets the following week. Check here to see where and when Parasite will be screening near you.
Elissa Federoff, head of theatrical distribution for Neon, the film distributor behind Parasite, told Deadline that she expects the film to be screening in 85 to 100 screens in the top 25 markets by the end of October.
“From there, it’s going to be a bit more of a ‘watch and see’ strategy,” says Federoff. “I would like it to be on as many screens as we can possibly be. We hope to be on a robust number of screens by mid-November.”
Neon will have a busy awards season, given it is also distributing other awards contenders, including festival favorite Portrait of a Lady on Fire and acclaimed documentaries Apollo 11, Honeyland, and The Biggest Little Farm.
The company brought I, Tonya to the Oscars in 2018, where it was nominated for several awards and earned Allison Janney an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. But the indie distributor has yet to land a Best Picture nomination.
Can this critics’ darling continue its box office boom as it expands beyond coastal culture capitals?
“The true test will be seeing if those rabid Los Angeles and New York box office numbers translate to equally strong ones once it expands,” says Erik Anderson, founder of Awardswatch, a website devoted to entertainment awards predictions.
Does ‘Parasite’ have a shot at a Best Picture Academy Award?
In a word, yes. But there’s a lot more to it.
Parasite is widely considered the frontrunner to win best international feature film (formerly “best foreign-language film) and will likely be in the running for Best Cinematography, Best Director, and other Oscar categories.
Given the critical acclaim surrounding it (at press time, it’s 99% on Rotten Tomatoes), awards experts are saying it has a shot at a Best Picture nomination, which would be a first for South Korea. Last year, Lee Chang-dong’s psychological drama Burning became the first Korean film to make it to the final nine-film shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film, but it fell short of a nomination.
More than half of the awards experts on Gold Derby include it on their list of Best Picture predictions. Anderson bumped it up to the number two spot in his latest Frontrunner Friday report.
Based on historical precedent, the odds of Parasite being nominated for a Best Picture aren’t in its favor. Only 11 foreign language films have ever been nominated for Best Picture, including last year’s Roma, the crowd-pleasing Life is Beautiful, and classics such as Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion and Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers.
If Parasite defies conventional wisdom and manages to take home Best Picture, it would be the first non-English language film to nab an Oscar in that category. The film’s timely examination of income inequality and class rage, delivered in a crowd-pleasing fashion, could make it the underdog to watch come awards time.
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