A reckoning of the heart
In the summer of 2019, a white man I loved travelled to Korea for 3 months. While he was gone, I remember him briefly texting me about a movie that was making waves. I remember brushing it off because I was uninterested, my heart heavy and jealous and full of confliction. I had seen Snowpiercer and didn’t like it. I had heard for years that I should see Oldboy and still didn’t watch it. He liked the movies with integrity and I enjoyed the cheesy ones. Both of us were too stubborn to give into the other. I thought of it as an inside joke between us, endearing. One day, he would get me to. One day, he would watch Train to Busan with me. But then that day never came and now he was in Korea watching Parasite in a theater, in the homeland, and I was on the couch of the old apartment we used to share together in Phoenix finally knowing what it’s like to feel a heart break in half. Shortly after he returned, we fell apart. We never got to talk about Parasite and when I started seeing articles about it coming to the states, only then did I wonder what it was like. It was a childish challenge I made with myself. A badge I wanted him to wear on my behalf. I didn’t go to Korea, but I’m the Korean girl you remember. I can see Parasite without you too. It was not related at all, yet it still fills me with deep sorrow. I didn’t realize it then, but I do now; most of my life I was trying to be Korean in a way that men valued, not in a way that I valued myself. Because being Korean was a defining trait they remembered about me and to be remembered in the eyes of a man was to hold value. My “almond eyes”. Love in the form of KBBQ. Hair so thick it clogged the drain once every 2 weeks. While I tried to erase these private experiences, nesting in the back of my mind was a movie that a man I loved had seen in Korea. I really wanted to see it too.
In the fall of 2019, I received a message from a white man I really, really, liked. He sent me the trailer for Parasite a few nights after we had grabbed dinner together. “Have you heard of this? Would you want to see it?” he sent. I was elated. It had only been a couple months, but I had pushed the thought of seeing it into the following year. It was too soon. Nobody wanted to see it with me. Movies were our thing. But now, here was a date that was actually asked by a man who made me feel like I was fully present. If I sound like a schoolgirl, it’s because that’s exactly how it felt. Watching the trailer for the first time made it seem mysterious. A psychological thriller, horror, heist movie all in one. I didn’t know what it was going to be about. Me, the spoiler queen, didn’t look it up. It was a golden egg presented to me, left for me to decipher what this meant. I didn’t hear from him for two weeks. One night, he came to the bar I worked at, sat down and ordered a beer. Thankfully, we weren’t busy. He made me laugh, like he always does. He asked me if I was free that Wednesday night. Thankfully, I was. He had tickets to see Parasite at the Harkins in Fashion Square and invited me to come. I could say a lot of things about the movie, the night, the way it felt like a dream, but I can spare a few details. Later, over whiskey, he asked me why I’d never gone to Korea. I told him I was afraid. That I knew as soon as I went, it would change me and what would that Nicole be like? “You won’t know until you meet her,” he said. I think I fell in love with him on that night, but I’ve never had the nerve to say that out loud.
A few months later, 2 days after my 27th birthday, Parasite would win a record breaking 6 Oscars. At that point, I had seen it 3 times, forcing my friends to watch it, eagerly taking any chance to talk about it (which I still do, clearly.) Myself and two dear friends of mine were at a family friend’s Oscar party, just happy to be hanging out together. I looked forward to it every year because they had themed food for the movies and they printed out all of the categories for everyone to vote on who to win. The themed food they had for Parasite was egg rolls.
In the first year where I had seen almost every movie on the list, in my heart, I knew Parasite deserved it. In my heart, I also didn’t believe that it would win. In a room full of older white film snobs, watching a glaringly racist academy broadcast, I only voted for Parasite on my paper twice. I would have won if I voted how I wanted to. If you watch the clips, even Director Bong didn’t think he would win as much as he did. Everything in me was screaming to be proud. But again, I was silent. I watched as Bong Joon-ho made one glorious speech after another. I watched him graciously let his collaborators get a chance to speak and start a standing ovation for Martin Scorsese. Please take a moment to think about this. The first ASIAN-AMERICAN EVER to win one of the most prestigious awards of his career, literally making history, took the time out of his Best Director award to honor a great white director. I watched the joy spread all across Kang-Ho Song’s face as he saw his friend walk up and up again. Throughout all of this, the white people around me scoffed. They laughed. They spoke over the speeches so loud that I had to wait to watch on Youtube later. They yelled around the room “Who even voted for this one?!” I wanted to cry. Again, I stayed silent. The comments continued with each win.
“Oh, I can’t even understand him!”
“I didn’t watch this one because of the subtitles”
“Now see, they’re letting her (her being Sharon Choi, the translator) speak for too long. PLAY THE CUT OFF MUSIC”
“1917 was so much better” (I can assure you, it wasn’t)
“Really? It won AGAIN?”
They became so bitter, so done with seeing a foreign film win, that they started cleaning up the party early, something I hadn’t seen them do before. People started goodbye conversations in front of the tv while Parasite won Best Picture, I couldn’t even see. I am filled with rage thinking about it now. I am ashamed at my own voice for staying so quiet, as it has for so long.
I think of how special this movie is to me, rooted in love, recognition, and private experience. I think of who I am and who I’ve loved. I think of Jessica, only child, Illinois Chicago. Classmate Kim Jin-Mo, he’s your cousin. *Ding dong*