Originally published on visualcultureweekly.wordpress.com on February 9, 2020.
In honour of tonight’s Academy Awards and Best Picture hopeful Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, let’s look at one particular moment in the movie that has had a rather surprising impact on visual culture, Chapaguri.
Chapaguri, or Ramdon as it has been translated in English, is a dish traditionally consisting of the combination of two Nongshim brand instant noodles: Neoguri and Chapagetti. When both noodles are cooked together and their respective flavour packets mixed, a new, now famous dish is created. Although this form of instant noodles has existed in Korea for years, it was popularized outside of the country by Parasite in a suspenseful scene when Park Yeon-gyo, a wealthy housewife returning from a failed camping trip, calls her housekeeper, Kim Chung-sook, to have her prepare the dish by her return in a few minutes. While not to spoil any elements of the movie’s main tensions, it suffices to say that the housekeeper is not prepared to cook this particular meal and must make it in a panic to hopefully have it ready for her boss’ arrival while making sure the house is presentable as well.
The inclusion of chapaguri in this scene also pushes the already established and dramatized class tensions between the two women and their respective families. The way Yeon-gyo directs Chung-sook to make a specific dish with no explanations about how to actually prepare it reveals the way she sees her, as an employee that must anticipate her needs and wants without getting to know her. It is also not any regular chapaguri that is expected from Chung-sook, it is chapaguri with sirloin steak on top. An elevated version of the original that is, of course, the only way Yeon-gyo or her family will eat it.
This version topped with steak is the version that has become the standard amongst fans of the movie. It has become a phenomena in its own right. Thousands of videos on YouTube feature people making and eating Chapaguri in the style proposed by Parasite and, as you can see below, the Asian grocery store down the street from my apartment featured the two necessary kinds of noodle side by side for our convenience.
Chapaguri has also entered Internet culture through its association with a larger phenomena, Mukbang. Popularized in Korea, Mukbang features people preparing and eating extremely large amounts of food on YouTube and various live-streaming services (see this blog post for more information).
Parasite ‘s success in North America is partially due to its use of Internet trends and memes to forge a space within our larger visual culture, outside of traditional cinemas. It also enjoyed attention on social media when a mnemonic jingle used by one of the characters became a hit. This is part of a larger shift in movie marketing that has embraced Internet and meme culture to reach a younger audience less likely to watch traditional commercials on cable television. 2019 had us witness the impact Internet users had cinema. It passionately reshaped the design of Sonic the Hedgehog, made Marriage Story into a series of memes, turned the « Joker stairs » into an unfortunate tourist attraction and, made Cats into an event movie to go see ironically. Parasite is no different. It is Internet and cinema converging. Its success and the attention Chapaguri is getting also benefits several other actors, ranging from those who produce the necessary components to those who make and consume it online. There is money to be made from a Parasite win, and that money, surprisingly, has to do with noodles.
As we wait for the results, here’s a picture of the author’s try at the dish that he will eat with joy if his favourite gets the Oscar for best picture.
Good luck to Parasite.