Newsletter 325

Published February 21, 2020
Korea hits the big time as Parasite cleans up at the Oscars

It’s been a great week for the Koreans. Never slow to celebrate some international triumph they can be justly proud of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasitescooping all the big awards at this year’s Oscars. Is this only a flash in the pan, or does it usher in a new, global openness on behalf of the American Academy? It would be nice to believe non-English language movies stood just as good a chance as their American counterparts, but this has never previously been the case.

There have been some pretty dubious Oscar winners over the years while masterful films were being made in other parts of the world. Was From Here to Eternity really a better movie than Tokyo Story in 1953? Was Kramer Vs. Kramerbetter than The Tin Drum in 1979? One could ask the same question year after year. Subtitles, or mere chauvinism, has ensured that Hollywood has always remained in the ascendency, but now the tide has turned.

I suspect it’s only an aberration but Parasite obviously spoke to audiences all around the planet. A brilliant comedy-drama about inequality – the biggest issue of our times if we believe Thomas Piketty – the film is equally merciless on both the supercilious, selfish rich and the scheming, amoral poor. There are no heroes at all, and that’s already an innovation for an Oscar winner.

When I compared the Australian film industry unfavourably to the Korean film industry a few weeks ago I received a number of oh-so-superior, trollish responses suggesting I was some sort of imbecile who didn’t know the only reason Koreans watched so many of their own movies (and made so many) was because of the Korean language. Well I still don’t know that. I’d prefer to believe Koreans support their own film industry because it’s producing movies they – and occasionally the rest of the world – want to watch. This is is not something one can currently say about the Australian film industry. If the Koreans produced a handful of second-rate movies every year (as we do!) home-grown audiences would surely be less enthusiastic. Parasite’s success is a huge boost, and vindication, for one of the world’s most successful film cultures.

Speaking of enthusiastic cultures, I’ve just returned from the 5th Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh, which is the subject of this week’s art column. This time around I managed to see a little more of the local art scene and get a better understanding of the important historical figures. This is what I’m most interested in doing when visiting another country, and promoting such understanding is one of the main goals of the DAS. If it weren’t for the patrons Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, few art people would have ever made their way to Dhaka. Now it is known as the city that hosts one of the truly significant cultural events of South Asia.

With some 500 artists involved I could hardly hope to write anything comprehensive about the DAS. If the article inspires anyone to go along to future summits it will have served a purpose.

With the film column, just to show that I’m not entirely predictable, I liked the new Harley Quinn movie, Birds of Prey, more than expected. To be honest, I thought I’d loathe it, so once again this proves there’s nothing to beat diminished expectations. The best aspect of this flick is its sheer propulsive craziness, with never a moment’s pause for maudlin reflection. Even as a jilted lover Harley is a one-woman demolition business. Whether we’re talking about Parasite or Birds of Prey, it seems that movies need to be utterly amoral to engage adequately with the strange days in which we live.