Everything you need to know about ‘Parasite’ and its Oscar nominations

"Parasite" actors Park So Dam and Choi Woo Sik
Park So Dam and Choi Woo Sik in “Parasite.”

It was clear from Times critic Justin Chang’s radiant enthusiasm coming out of Cannes in May: “Parasite” was something special — a movie to be seen, and then to be watched as it took the awards circuit by storm.

It’s a journey that will culminate Feb. 9 at the Oscars, where the Korean-language film now stands nominated in six categories, including best picture and director.

But for those those who’ve missed the “Parasite” train thus far, here’s a short course in why director Bong Joon Ho’s movie is such a buzzy big deal.


The reviews

Chang called the flick “deviously entertaining” and “a thriller of extraordinary cunning and emotional force,” qualities that have helped propel it to $134 million at the worldwide box office, per Box Office Mojo, including $25 million domestically.

“The first hour or so of ‘Parasite’ is simply the most dazzling movie about the joys of the con I’ve seen in years,” Chang wrote in his review, before the movie opened in the U.S. “It’s a heist thriller of the quotidian, in which no everyday object — a piece of fruit, a child’s drawing — is too trivial to be weaponized. Bong, his camera at once ecstatic and controlled, brings the pieces together with the brio of a conductor attacking a great symphony.”

Bong Joon Ho at Cannes
Bong Joon Ho poses with his Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
(Ian Langsdon / EPA-EFE / REX )

When that review came out in October, “Parasite” had already taken home the Palme d’Or from Cannes — or the “Bong d’Or, as it must henceforth be known,” Chang said back in May.

“If there is a particular reason why ‘Parasite’ prevailed,” Chang wrote, “I think it’s because it delivered the competition’s single most original and entertaining approach to a subject — the rebellion of the underclass, the return of the repressed — that ran through many other films in competition, including several other prizewinners.”

The movie now has a 99% “fresh” rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 93% score from audiences. Ultimately, “Parasite” topped Chang’s list of the best films of 2019.

The story

The movie follows the Kim family, four adults who live in a basement and eke out a living assembling pizza boxes. Then the son gets a tutoring gig for the wealthy Park family, and the game is on. The poverty-stricken Kims insinuate themselves at every turn into the Parks’ posh lives.

“As the stakes heighten though, the laughter turns scathing and the tone becomes unsettling and terrifying. You’re never sure where the story’s heading and when it finally lands, the ending will leave you gutted,” Times awards expert Glenn Whipp wrote in October in a column whose headline declared the film “should win all the Oscars” but might not win any.

The director

"Parasite" director Bong Joon Ho.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Whipp also brought attention to director Bong’s resume, which includes “Okja,” “Snowpiercer,” “Mother,” “The Host” and “Memories of Murder,” even as he bemoaned the 2019 Oscar fate of “Roma,” another foreign-language film that failed to win best picture though it earned trophies for foreign film, director and cinematography.

Times film reporter Jen Yamato talked to the director in October, noting that some people who’d seen “Parasite” said it made them feel uncomfortable. Bong said he “didn’t dislike that response” to his newest effort, which, as “Snowpiercer” did, invokes class differences.

“I think it will be very meaningful to reflect on where that discomfort comes from — why do we feel uncomfortable?” he said.

Hey, the class divide is a hot movie topic this year.

The favorite actor

Song Kang Ho
Song Kang Ho in “Parasite.”

Actor Song Kang Ho, who has worked with Bong four times, including in “Parasite,” knows the drill by now.

“It’s thrilling but at the same time agonizing. I always expect the project will turn out great,” he told The Times last week.

“However, to carry out my assignment and meet director Bong’s expectation, I have to put out my very best effort to address every detail that he hands out. So there’s always those two sides of the coin when you work with Bong Joon Ho: great and agonizing.”

The awards

On Monday, “Parasite” moved a few steps closer to conquering the world as it racked up six Oscar nominations: best picture, director, international feature, original screenplay, production design and film editing.

The best picture nod was history-making: The movie is the first South Korean nominee ever in that category.

“Parasite” was chosen as best picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics. In another history-making moment for a Korean film, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. gave it a Golden Globe for foreign language motion picture earlier this month.

Bong Joon Ho at the Golden Globes
Bong Joon Ho at the 2020 Golden Globes.
(Paul Drinkwater / NBC)

It was also nominated for outstanding movie ensemble cast at the SAG Awards and on Feb. 2 will learn its fate at the BAFTA Awards, where it’s up for best film, director, original screenplay and non-English-language movie. Nominations and wins among smaller organizations are almost too numerous to count.

Bong has used the opportunities presented by his film’s success to bring attention to world cinema, most recently at the Golden Globes, where — speaking mostly in his native Korean — he urged English-speaking audiences to “overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles” and be rewarded with access to a new world of amazing films.

Tune in Feb. 9 to the 92nd Academy Awards, broadcast by ABC, to see how the movie’s journey ends — or potentially begins for a whole new audience.