Firstly, stop what you are doing. Continue to read this if you’ve seen Parasite, otherwise go watch it and then come back. Don’t read anything about it, don’t read the blurb and don’t watch the trailer. Just put it on and then come back. You’ll thank me…
Now that’s sorted…this is Bong Joon Ho’s best film.
I’ll be honest, despite the praise that poured from his fanboys/girls over the past few years; I didn’t see that much of an appeal. The Host was fine and I thought Snowpiercer was an absolute shambles. People will crucify me for the latter, but I had the Blu-Ray imported from Australia only to see Tilda Swinton swanning around with a shoe on her head. Four out of ten.
Anyway, I didn’t believe the hype. Parasite changes things. It’s not perfect overall, but there are elements of the production that are executed to perfection. I’m surprised it won this year’s Oscar for Best Picture – not because of the quality of the film, but for what it is. I’m glad it did, though.
Parasite is many things at once and I’ll do my best not to give away too much; the less you know about the plot the better. But here’s the top line: the Kim family – father Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, daughter Ki-jung and son Ki-woo – are struggling to make ends meet living in a semi-basement apartment. Ki-woo’s friend visits the semi-basement and tells Ki-woo he’s leaving for university and that he should take up his job tutoring the daughter of the wealthy Park family. He gifts them a scholar’s rock, which promises wealth, Ki-Woo takes up the job offer and a series of recommendations and opportunism entangles the family in a web of deceit.
The film lives and dies on the viewer not knowing. It’s not dissimilar to the Safdie’s Uncut Gems in the way luck and wealth is inherited from a talismanic object, and in the way it twists and wrings every sinew of tension. But Uncut Gems is a modern fairy-tale; this is more Hitchcock thriller, melding genres seamlessly, lulling you into a false sense of security.
The motifs: the stairs, the flashing lights, the tight claustrophobic spaces, the upstairs-downstairs dynamic and descriptions of smells are metaphorical, but not overcooked. The politics are immediate and relevant, but not forced. The camera gives you time to breathe, but with one movement takes breath away. The cinematography hypnotizes you in call and response with a soundtrack that plays a bi-polar game of tennis with your emotions, deciding whether you think it’s funny or fearful.
And anticipation kills you. The camera glares into spaces, into darkness, through rooms, so you stare. The anticipation of thinking something will go wrong, getting one step ahead of the plot. You won’t win by doing that, but the real payoff – that you would never have expected – is enormous. And each actor is inch-perfect in the foreground and background.
Honestly, it’s a must-see. It feels important and innovative; immediate and satirical. Its tone is perfect and that’s probably why it raked in as many Academy Awards as it did. It’s not a bastion of political commentary – it doesn’t proselytise or virtue signal – nor is it an out-and-out edge of your seat thriller. It’s balanced and that’s what is so good about it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are probably films that ‘do’ family dynamics or black comedy better and there are definitely films that dig in their heels (in the same way) a bit better that this does – The Skin I Live In (ish) – but there are few that resonate on so many levels. Literally and metaphorically.
I’ve seen the word ‘masterpiece’ bandied about. I’m not sure. It’s unique and straight from the top drawer, but is it flawless? I need to see it again and I feel I need to watch more Bong Joon Ho to sense the build up to this.
This is clearly his magnum opus, but I’m hesitant to label it a masterpiece. Time will tell though; I think this is one that will age like a fine wine and memory may serve this well. But I’ll leave that up to you. One thing’s for certain though: you should see it. Buy the DVD, buy the Blu-ray, stream it, rent it, steal it. But see it. You won’t regret it.
Dir: Bong-Joon Ho
Scr: Bong Joon Ho, Jin Won Han
Featuring: Kang-ho Sung, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo, Woo-sik Choi, So-dam Park, Jeong-eun Lee, Hye-jin Jang, Myeong-hoon Park, Ji-so Jung, Keun-rok Park
Prd: Bong Joon Ho, Miky Lee, Min Heoi Heo, Kwak Sin Ae, Moon Yang Kwon, Jang Young Hwan
DOP: Kyung-pyo Hong
Music: Jaeil Jung
Country: South Korea
Run Time: 122 mins
Parasite is available now.