A fair shake for “Parasite”

A few years ago, I praised contemporary South Korean film making. The two movies I found most worth mentioning were (1) “The Age of Shadows,” a police/espionage thriller set in World War II during the Japanese occupation and (2) “The Merciless,” a cross between “The Departed” and “White Heat” with a little bit of “Pulp Fiction” thrown in at the beginning.

Now, the American filmgoing public is in on the secret. “Parasite,” a black comedy about the class divide (I think), is a big hit here. It has been nominated for major awards, including for an Oscar as best picture. It’s the first South Korean film so nominated. “Parasite” is also up for five additional Oscars.

Scott wrote about “Parasite” here. I found more merit in the film than Scott did. However, I don’t think it’s nearly as good as the two South Korean films mentioned above, or as good as a number of other such imports I’ve seen.

However, “Parasite” confirms the technical virtuosity of South Korean cinema. As Scott said, this is an extremely well-made film.

“Parasite” has already won a number of international awards and, as I said, has been nominated for an Oscar in the category of best picture. In addition, the cast won the Screen Actors Guild award for best ensemble, a first for any foreign-language film.

However, no member of the cast has been nominated for an Oscar. This has some of the usual suspects talking about discrimination against actors of Asian descent.

This article in the Washington Post complains that only a handful of such actors have ever won an Oscar. One of them is the British actor Ben Kingsley, whose father was of Indian descent. He won best actor for his performance in “Gandhi.”

I can’t speak to claims of past discrimination in the recognition of Asian actors at the Academy Awards. However, with regard to “Parasite” any suggestion of discrimination seems silly.

First, if the powers that be wanted to discriminate, I doubt they would have nominated the movie for six Oscars including best picture.

Second, the actors in “Parasite” speak Korean, not English, in the film. How does one evaluate in a fine-tuned way the quality of acting in a language one doesn’t understand?

There are at least eight significant parts in “Parasite.” I couldn’t begin to say which of these performances is the best. In fact, I couldn’t say which ones were in the top three.

The folks who judge acting professionally can, I assume, make a better run at evaluating foreign language actors than I can. But I doubt that they can make the fine distinctions that would be required reliably to compare members of the “Parasite” ensemble to one another, never mind to the year’s top performances in English.

Asian actors and actors of Asian descent may have a valid beef against their past treatment by Hollywood and by those who give out awards. If one goes back far enough in time, I’m pretty sure they do. But there is no valid beef when it comes to “Parasite.”

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