The one-inch barrier: it’s time to get over subtitles

4 mins read

Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite has taken over the film world, cleaning up at the Oscars. With Golden Globes and no less than four Oscars under his belt, the respected South Korean director had this to say: “Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”  

“I don’t want to read a movie; I want to watch it.” This is a common argument from Westerners when it comes to watching foreign film. Subtitles will take away from the immersive nature of the film, they’re too distracting. Dubbing is the only option when it comes to foreign film – if it’s that good then we’ll remake it in our own tongue.

A television series of Parasite is indeed in development – rumour has it that Tilda Swinton is set to star as one of the leads. The whole American re-make rule has some truth behind it. But is it right? Will the English language and white cast take away from the magic? Why not leave it be?   

Think about what you’re missing. Parasite is not a miracle movie – there are hundreds of amazing films produced in the East, we’re just too lazy to watch them. Hopefully Bong’s success with his latest will be enough to kick-start a foreign film phase in Hollywood. There is no reason to wait years for some tired Disney producer to shove a script through the studio only for the momentous foreign film to end up as a twelve-part Netflix special. 

There are more movies like Parasite out there waiting to be found. Credit: Curzon Artificial Eye

Subtitles do not ruin a film. While you may be caught up trying to read them in the beginning, soon you will be just as immersed as you would be with any Christopher Nolan screenplay. There is a certain appeal to acting in another language, listening to the different cadences and tone style.

That is why subtitles are not actually a problem for people who enjoy movies: they help bring them to life. There are so many beautiful languages out there, why exclude them for the sake of plain old English? 

This is a digital age; the world is more connected than ever. Accessibility to a range of different movies is now so simple – there is no need to try and shoehorn them into Western culture anymore. What is the point of trying to fix something that is not broken? The misconception that all foreign films are arty French noir or ridiculous Chinese kung-fu pictures are based on stereotype and a lack of education. Parasite is only one example. 

The first films were silent, interspersed with title cards and subtitles. Most of them were French. After that they introduced dialogue and colour. Screenplays were longer. The next phase should be bringing subtitles back – they never should have disappeared in the first place.

The UK and America do not own the film industry, despite what Hollywood may believe. If you truly want to enjoy film, it’s time to broaden your horizons and turn those subtitles on. 

Featured image credit: Cyril Zannattacci

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Writer Person. Old Fashioned Nerd. Reluctant Hipster. Barefoot.


  1. There are multiple examples I can think of where American remakes ruin a good movie, but I think the worst one I’ve seen is Oldboy. The South Korean original is a classic, by a legendary director that needs more recognition outside of SK. The 2013 remake with Josh Brolin (and, to an extent, the Indian “ripoff”) is a far inferior version that doesn’t add anything worthwhile to the film.

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