Prior to the cancellation of it’s screening, Long Beach State Associated Students Inc. were giving students the chance to view Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite, which made history at the 92nd Academy Awards as the first foreign film to win best picture. It means a lot more than earning a little golden man.
This year further validated the argument that filmmakers of Asian descent deserve a seat at the table as serious auteurs of our time.
Parasite’s success stands as a testament to Asian cinema, transcending the boundaries that lie between Best Picture and Best Foreign Film. Asian films exist on their own unique merits. The world responding to Parasite can do just as much bad as it can good to Asian filmmakers. It can either continue to tokenize films by Asian filmmakers or consistently uphold them to the standards they deserve.
Despite the Academy’s aversion to the “one-inch tall barrier of subtitles” or the cultural differences Old Hollywood can’t overcome, the rest of the world is ready to recognize more of these filmmakers. According to the 2019 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report, across 1,335 films from 2007 to 2018, 42 directors (3%) were Asian. Of 46 female directors across 1,200 films, two were Asian.
The only two Asian filmmakers to win Best Director at the Academy Awards are Joon-Ho and Ang Lee.
In Joon-ho’s 20-year career, he was largely ignored for films like Memories of Murder and Snowpiercer by mainstream film institutions until recent memory.
His filmography undeniably influenced the likes of American greats like David Fincher and the Coen Brothers with their overall elevation of the noir genre. Japanese filmmaking legend Akira Kurosawa was only nominated for Best Director for Ran in 1986, despite his generation-spanning filmography influencing the works of Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino and countless others.
Female filmmakers of Asian descent have yet to receive the same recognition.
But the rest of Hollywood and beyond have so much more to offer other than Parasite and extravagant ceremonies.
Recent cinematic events like Lee Chang-dong’s Hitchcockian Burning and Bi-Gan’s mise-en-scéne commanding Long Day’s Journey Into Night are human spectacles that deserve to be seen just as much as Parasite. Although more of a remnant of the late ’90s and early ’00s, Wong Kar-wai is a Chinese director whose filmography is of stylish and sentimental sensibility that also makes for timeless pictures.
These stories that play with form in a truly unique way warrants the attention of Asian-led cinema past, present and future. It would be criminal to praise Parasite because of its convenience and then disregard those who set an example for filmmakers of tomorrow like: Hu Bo; Diao Yinan; or Takashi Miike.
Parasite swept award season from the Cannes Film Festival to the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards. Post-wide release, the film grossed $245 million with its $11.4 million budget, making Joon-ho one of the few directors whose films have depth and bankability.
Parasite’s historic success alone is a reason to seek it out, and the myriad of other asian films that have been ignored for far too long.
Note: This article was intended to be published on February 2020 for the Daily 49er.