Oscars 2020: Why It's Important to Get to Know the Cast of Parasite — Not Just the Film
Parasite Eats Away at the Competition
Bong Joon Ho's psychological thriller Parasite has officially infiltrated award season, which has historically heavily recognized films with predominantly white actors. The recent backlash BAFTA received after it was announced that its 2020 nominee pool included only white actors mirrored 2016's #OscarsSoWhite outcry that ignited many to speak out — but not much has changed since, as evidenced by the lack of diversity in this year's nominations.
This year, the Academy recognized one actor of color in its nominee class (Cynthia Erivo for Harriet). Although this year's BAFTAs and Oscars did recognize both Parasite the film and director Bong in their respective best film and best director categories, it was this year's Screen Actors Guild Awards that shined a light on the actual cast of the film, not just the film itself.
A Deeper Look Into #AwardShowsSoWhite
Vulture's senior writer E. Alex Jung explained well why progress must still be made when it comes to the Oscars (and award shows in general) honoring Asian casts and actors in Hollywood.
"It’s boring to talk about, but it must be said that there’s a persistent prejudice against Asian actors within Hollywood: It’s why studio executives say they can’t green-light a film with an Asian lead, and why an Asian actor has never been nominated in Best Actor or Best Actress (See: Awkwafina, 2020.)," he wrote. "There’s an old prejudice at work here that sees Asian people as technical workers — hence the praise for Bong Joon Ho — and refuses to see us as fully human."
Critics Resist While Old Hollywood Persists
Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang echoed Jung’s sentiment in his own criticism of the Oscars by explaining that Hollywood’s inability to see Asians as complex, multifaceted people has continued to preserve antiquated and detrimental stereotypes.
He wrote, “Some might argue that the seamlessness and coherence of the ‘Parasite’ ensemble may actually have worked against it, keeping any single actor from standing out. To me, that argument is not just false on its face but ugly in its insinuations: It comes close to perpetuating a hoary canard about Asian actors and Asian people in general, which is that they’re indistinguishable and interchangeable.”
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
While there's still a long way to go for Hollywood to break its exclusionary traditions, it's important to celebrate the history-making achievements the film and director Bong have already made ahead of Sunday night's Oscars.
Bong became the first Korean director to ever win a Golden Globe, and Parasite was the first South Korean film to win the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Fans will have to tune in to see if the movie's winning streak will continue on Sunday.
Before the big night, get to know the actors who've each played an integral part of making this film as successful as it has become.
Choi Woo Shik
The South Korean-born star spent most of his upbringing in Canada, then returned to Korea as a young adult to pursue his acting career. Choi, 29, made his debut as Gwi Dong in the TV series The Duo in 2011 and gained international success as Yong Guk in 2016's Train to Busan. He then played Kim in 2017's Okja, which was directed and co-written by Bong Joon Ho.
Choi and Bong reunited once again to work on Parasite, in which Choi plays Kim Ki Woo — a smart, determined young man who leads his impoverished family in a scheme to become employees of a wealthy family. You can also check him out in the action-horror flick The Divine Fury (2019) as Father Choi and the animated Wooparoo Adventure (2019) as Park Hyun Pil.
Park So Dam
The 28-year-old's breakout role as Yeon Duk in 2015's The Silenced led her to win best supporting actress at the Busan Film Critics Awards. That same year, Park went on to star in The Priests, a mystery thriller that helped her gain a mass following and resulted in her being voted 2016's most promising actor, along with Kang Dong Won, according to the Chosunilbo.
In Parasite, Park plays Choi's sister, who joins in on his scheme as the wealthy family's art tutor-therapist who works with the family's young son. You can also catch her in Wooparoo Adventure as Kyoung Jang and as Park Hyung Joon in 2019's animated Bakugan: Battle Force.
Song Kang Ho
The star, one of South Korea's most famous and well-respected actors, is a long-time collaborator of Bong Joon Ho. With no professional training, Song was able to build his acting career through theater, and later through film. His talent was first recognized when he was awarded best supporting actor at the 1997 Blue Dragon Film Awards for his role as Song Neung Han in No. 3. His star grew as he landed leading parts in films like The Foul King (2000), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Memories of Murder (2003), which was his first collaboration with Bong. The two continued their director-actor relationship to create critically acclaimed films like The Host (2006), Snowpiercer (2013) and, of course, Parasite.
In September 2019, Bong told The Hollywood Reporter that his trust in Song has helped him be more daring with his work.
"There was a relief that came from the certain expectation that if this actor plays this role, even the controversial parts will definitely be convincing to the audience," Bong told the outlet of Song. "The script of Parasite, especially, has bold, unexpected, or somewhat controversial moments in its latter part," he continued, "but having Song Kang-ho in mind resolved the fears and concerns that I had writing them."
Jang Hye Jin
As the matriarch of the Kim family in Parasite, Jang is magnetic in her performance as Kim Chung Sook and often steals scenes with her impeccable comedic timing. Though she is known to have portrayed several versions of "the wife" or "middle-aged woman" in other films, she had to do something a little different to bring her character to life for this film.
According to AllKPop, the star had to gain 30 lbs. for the role. She reportedly "ate six meals a day and limited her exercise to less than 40 minutes a day" to become the Kim Chung Sook we see onscreen.
Lee Sun Kyun
With musical theatre beginnings, the star — who plays the wealthy father in the film — is best known for his roles in K-dramas Coffee Prince (2007), Pasta (2010), Miss Korea (2013) and My Mister (2018). He's also collaborated with South Korean director Hong Sang Soo on a string of indie flims, including Oki's Movie (2010), Nobody's Daughter Haewon (2013) and Our Sunhi (2013).
In 2009, he went on to star in Paju as Kim Joong Sik, which won him the best actor award at the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival held in Spain in 2010, according to The Korea Herald. You can watch more of Lee in 2036 Apocalypse Earth (2019) and the TV series, Diary of a Prosecutor (2019).
Cho Yeo Jeong
The actress rose to prominence in 2010 as Choon Hyang in The Servant. She often battled being seen as just another pretty face throughout her early career, but has become widely respected her craft and bold character choices.
She went on to play Hwa Yeon in 2012's period piece The Concubine and switched gears as Go So Ra in the rom-com TV series Haeundae Lovers the same year. You can watch her now as Jung Seo Yeon in the action-thriller series, Woman of 9.9 Billion.