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Climbing the One-Inch Barrier

26 February 2020

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Climbing the One-Inch Barrier

Hollywood gasped with embarrassment and sudden realisation when Bong Joon-ho, the director of Parasite, said in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to many more amazing films.”

As it turns out, Parasite, a South Korean black satire about class and wealth, has stormed Hollywood and shaken up its awards season with unexpected vigour. After its Globes triumph — actually after it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival last May — the film has won a dozen or so other prizes and is now up for six Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Production Design, and Best International Feature Film.

Bong’s mention of the importance of subtitles applies best to his own film: Parasite’s English subtitles are intrinsic to its crossover appeal and its ability to convey not just dialogue and narrative but also a sense of humour and cultural particulars. From the digs at North Korea to the revelation on that eccentric recipe called “ram-don”, the “one-inch subtitles” of Parasite have contributed to the film’s enthusiastic reception in the US and also in most international markets.

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Photo credit: Darcy Paquet

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