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Tag: bong joon-ho

Editorials

Parasite and Foreign Language Films in the UK

February 26, 2020
Parasite Movie

Since Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture (at the Oscars), many have asked if this marks the beginning of more prominence for international films in English-speaking territories?

Well, today we’re going to look at the performance of international films in the UK. Looking at the number of non-English language films that get released in the UK, their box office takings, the factors that affect this and how Parasite’s recent triumph could impact the industry in the future.

2018 Foreign Language Release Numbers

Recent BFI statistics show that 331 films released in 2018 were entirely in a foreign language. This marked a decrease from the 349 entirely foreign language releases in 2017. But international releases still accounted for 43% of UK releases overall. And the number of different languages represented in UK cinemas increased. From 38 languages other than English in 2017 to 44 in 2018.

The Box Office Numbers

Foreign-language releases in 2018 made £30 million at the box office. The joint highest taking (2016 taking the same amount) since 2010.

Many high grossing international films have a dedicated audience in the UK. E.g. The UK has a big Bollywood audience with the highest-grossing foreign-language film of 2018 was Padmaava. A Hindi film which, according to the BFI, grossed £2.2 million (across 137 cinemas). The UK also has a big Polish community (it is the most common non-native language in England and Wales). So films like Clergy made £1.3 million (shown at 237 cinemas), and Cold War made £1.1 million (shown in 79 cinemas).

However, many of the other best-performing films had a great amount of exposure from film festivals and awards ceremonies. Which helped gain more interest from broader English speaking audiences. For example, Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or and earned £0.7 million across 43 cinemas. Making it the second-highest-grossing foreign-language film not in Polish or Hindi. And A Fantastic Woman won Best Foreign-Language Film at the 2018 Oscars helping it to earn £0.4 million across 38 cinemas.

The Success of Parasite

Parasite received several accolades prior to its UK release. These included the Palme d’Or, the BAFTA for best screenplay and best foreign-language film and many more. But since its Oscar win Parasite has become the third highest-grossing non-English language film at the UK box office. Earning a total of £5.1 million. Only beaten out by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (£9.4 million) and Passion of the Christ (£11.1 million). And it increased its cinema presence, from 137 screens to 428. Showing that the prestige of the award helped to further advertise the film to English speaking audiences. And convinced more theatres to show it.

This historic victory also coincides with a recent growing demand for international content. According to Curzon CEO Philip Knatchbull, the rise of non-English content on TV and streaming services like Netflix has helped to change attitudes towards foreign language products. Showing that there are audiences craving foreign language content and that there is a possibility for a new generation of English speakers to emerge who become accustomed to and more appreciative of world cinema.

What does this mean?

Parasite has proven that something has changed in the zeitgeist. Foreign language films usually struggle at the UK box office. Largely due to a perceived lack of interest from larger audiences. However, Parasite‘s Oscar win proves that foreign-language films are more accessible than ever. And are capable of captivating and performing well with English speaking cinema audiences when given the chance and the marketing.

Hopefully, Parasite‘s success coupled with the emergence of modern audiences more appreciative of foreign content, and the big awards ceremonies providing publicity for non-English language films means that bigger British audiences will soon be watching the wide variety of international films available at the cinema. And that more marketing; showcasing opportunities will be available for these films to reach larger audiences. Which is important.

More box office earnings mean more languages and cultures will be represented at the cinema. And exposure to foreign cinema helps us to discover great stories, new methods of storytelling and it allows us to learn more about and empathize with other cultures, traditions and ways of life. And that’s always a good thing.

Also Read: Parasite Director Once Described The Oscars As “Very Local” – Does He Have a Point?

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Editorials

Parasite Director Bong Joon-Ho Once Described The Oscars As “Very Local” Does He Have A Point?

February 17, 2020

Bong Joon-ho, the talented director behind Okja, Snowpiercer and more, recently described the Oscars as “very local” when asked if he thought it odd no South Korean film has ever been nominated for an Oscar before. The director’s meaning seems to be that the Oscars are very biased towards American films. As I’m sure everyone is aware Parasite won four Oscars last weekend, including Best Picture but even with this burst of internationality – are the Oscars “local” awards?

The Undisputed Champion of Film Awards

Bong Joon-ho holds the Oscars for best original screenplay, best international feature film, best directing, and best picture for "Parasite" at the Governors Ball after the Oscars,
Credit: Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (10552686aw) Bong Joon-ho holds the Oscars for best original screenplay, best international feature film, best directing, and best picture for “Parasite” at the Governors Ball after the Oscars.

I think most people in America and the UK see the Oscars as the film awards. Winning Best Picture at the Oscars is probably the closest we have to declaring what was the best film of that year. After all, there are many film awards that are specific to the host country, indeed, in South Korea they have the Blue Dragon and Grand Bell awards, both specifically for South Korean films. But I don’t think that’s how the Oscars present themselves. For a start films from all over the world can, and do, win awards, they are not limited to American or English-language films. There is an unspoken rule that every film – or at least every film that had a release in LA – is in contention. Last year’s Best Picture winner, Green Book, not only beat every American film but every Dutch, South Korean Mexican and every other country’s film as well.

Awards Around The World

The BAFTA (source: variety.com)

It does seem that a lot of countries have films awards that are specific to their country, and the Oscars (and the BAFTAs in the UK) are somewhat an exception in ostensibly being worldwide. But I’d argue that for many countries it’s not their national awards but their film festival that is the big deal. France’s, and perhaps the world’s, most famous film festival is the Cannes Film Festival, with it’s biggest award being the Palme d’Or. Just glancing over the winners of this award since 2000 – nine of the winners had some French involvement if we eliminate co-productions that goes down to two French films. Using the same criteria, The Golden Bear from the Berlin International Film Festival only has two films where Germany was involved in co-production. Without prior knowledge of the geography of Italy, I don’t think someone could work out any bias in the Venice Film Festival to its host country, since 2000 Iranian, South Korean and Venezuelan films have won the Golden Lion with only one Italian film winning that award in that time.

10 Billion Reasons Why

Hollywood Hills Sign
The Hollywood Sign (credit: Wikipedia)

So why do films from outside America fare so poorly at the Oscars? Well, most Oscar voters are US based so perhaps there is a bias there. But also the American film industry is huge – making over $10 billion in 2017 and it would make sense that the biggest and most successful country would dominate awards. Again, like no other country American films are watched around the world. In Britain and America to even consider watching a film, not in English, is considered a signifier of high-brow intellectual tastes, whereas to like American films in other countries is the norm. However, it can’t simply be that America makes more films if nothing else India actually produces more. Parasite is only the twelfth film that isn’t in English to be nominated for Best Picture – and the first to actually win – and I think it is impossible to argue that such a list represents the best films ever made.

Another very interesting point in all of this is that for all of Parasite’s success at the Oscars it received no acting nominations. The same was true of Roma last year, a film not in English that did well at the Oscars, and Slumdog Millionaire which won eight – including Best Picture – but featured a cast of non-white actors who when compared to typical Oscar nominees weren’t at all famous. To me it seems bizarre that a film that was considered the best of the year would not contain a single-acting performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. Is this bias towards American actors (and admittedly British actors who seem to be at no disadvantage) or is it simply that Kang-ho song and Sun-kyun Lee do not have the name recognition as Brad Pitt and Renee Zellweger? As a case in point, I could rattle off the stars of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood or The Irishman but had to look on IMDb to find the names of Parasite’s stars.

I think it’s clear that the Oscars is not really a competition without bias but despite this a foreign film can still win big. And, of course, even being nominated for an Oscar will raise the profile of a film that lacks the marketing power of something like Joker. If pushed I feel that most people would admit the bias towards America and would see that as perfectly natural.

Also Read: For Your Consideration: Sci-Fi, Comedy & Oscar Snubs

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