PARASITE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: Bong Joo-ho
Produced by: Kwak Sin-ae, moon Yang-kwon, Bong Yok-cho, Jang Young-hwan
Screenplay by: Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ji-so, Jung Hyeon-jun, Lee Jung-eun
Cinematography by: Hong Kyung-pyo
******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ********
I actually saw this incredible work of cinema storytelling on Saturday just passed, so am writing this review AFTER the film rather incredibly won several Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday. I say “rather incredibly”, not because the film wasn’t a worthy winner of the Best Film award, but because high quality films not in the English language usually have to be satisfied with the Best International Film Award, as it is known now. Parasite (2019) in fact, deservedly won that award too. Anyway, irrespective of the awards it has earned, the film has also been universally praised. Not surprisingly, because it is not just a Korean arthouse film, but rather an ingenious genre classic. It blends dark comedy, horror, drama and thriller tropes to create a funny, suspenseful and consistently surprising experience.
The story premise itself is relatively simple and it begins not too differently from a Japanese film I watched recently called, Shoplifters (2018). A lower class family, in this case Korean, live in cramped conditions and struggle to survive on a daily basis. Their apartment is below level and the Kim’s including father, Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, daughter Ki-jeong and son Kim Ki-woo are all out of work. While they struggle on they stick together as a family, battling drunks who piss against their window, steal local wi-fi and also carry out menial part-time jobs like making up pizza boxes. Fortunately, a friend of Ki-woo recommends him for a teaching position within a very wealthy household belonging to the Park family. Then the narrative really gathers pace as the Kim family surreptitiously begin to infest and inveigle their way into the Park’s privileged lives.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Kim family are the antagonists in the narrative, however, they are very empathetic characters. Their dubious actions lead the story into very dark and funny territory, as they manipulate Mr and Mrs Park, plus their young son and teenage daughter. While not condoning their actions one can identify with their class struggle because they are desperate to improve their situation and prosperity. The issue is though they get a bit greedy and the superb screenplay throws a massive twisting curve-ball at them as the Kim’s plans unravel and events go completely off the rails.
Filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho, like he did with the brilliant films, Snowpiercer (2013) and The Host (2006) is clearly using the social status of his characters to satirise and critique capitalist society. It’s literally an ‘Upstairs versus Downstairs’ narrative in terms of both locations and themes. Beautifully filmed, in a property that was actually built for the film, the cinematography makes clever use of glass and windows to mirror characters and reflect identity. Moreover, it has more than a voyeuristic air to it with characters hiding around doorways and stairwells, as well as following, spying and watching each other secretly. It’s a film which Hitchcock would have been proud to have directed too, with many suspenseful and gripping set-pieces throughout.
Ultimately, the first three-quarters of the Parasite (2019) are a cinematic masterpiece, so brilliantly plotted and planned out. When the Kim’s plans are then upended, the film gives way to an unhinged ending as events descend into bloody chaos. However, Bong Joon-ho is so in control of the material he tells us, via Ki-taek, that this careful planning is about to give way to something more messy. Furthermore, the final act while moving and tenderly rendered, I felt, was replete with somewhat poetic narrative holes. But, this is not a criticism as even in the final scenes Joon-ho is inventive while surprising the audience. Although, overall, the biggest shock would come when Parasite (2019) won the best film at the Oscars. I’m still reeling the Academy made such a risky choice!