What We Can Learn From the English Code Switching in ‘Parasite’

Loanwords: Parasite mom with dog

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at how Parasite’s use of loanwords endears it to Oscar voters.

Cast your mind back to the less, uh, pandemic-y part of 2020, when Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Good times.

Parasite‘s awards sweep made considerable waves as far as subtitles and the “one-inch tall barrier” afflicting American audiences are concerned. But as today’s video essay notes, less has been said about the fact that the first non-English language film to win the Oscar for best picture has a fair amount of English in it. So what gives?

Sure, Parasite narratively includes English because Ki Woo (Choi Woo-sik) is teaching Da Hye (Jung Ji-so). So there is a narrative reason for the film’s English. But what to make of the loanwords that frequently infiltrate the characters’ sentences? Or the code-switching that both the Parks and the Kims occasionally partake in?

While the presence of English is likely not an intentional thematic thread, it is nevertheless revealing. As Bong Joon-ho himself said, essentially, we all live in the same country called capitalism. And it just so happens that capitalism is especially fluent in English.

The following video essay tugs at a variety of threads: from Bong Joon-ho’s career-long engagement with non-Americans struggling in American systems; to South Korea’s longstanding push-and-pull against outside, colonizing forces; to Parasite‘s pointed invocation of trivialized indigenous iconography. This essay is a thought-provoking starting point … and proof that, unlike other best picture winners, we’re going to be talking about Parasite for many years to come.

Watch “English. Language. Movies. Parasite.”

Who made this?

This video essay on Parasite‘s use of loanwords is by Kyle Kallgren, who creates video essay content on the literary and philosophical edge of cinema … as well as the mucky business of making video essays itself. You can subscribe to Kyle over on YouTube here. And you can follow Kyle on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields: Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.