Tag Archives: Korean Cinema

PARASITE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

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!

Mark: 10 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

DIRECTOR:  Park Chan-Wook

WRITERS: Park Chan-Wook, Chung Seo-kyung (from the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters)

CAST:  Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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You may be too young to know or too old to remember but Channel 4 in the 1980s used to have an eclectic choice of arty independent and World Cinema films.  Now you get a few on Film Four but Channel 4 was a main outlet for interesting cinema not shown on the BBC or ITV channels. Channel 4 also used to, for a short period between 1986 and 1987 have a ‘Red Triangle’ on certain films to advise of sexual scenes and material that may be considered controversial. Not surprisingly the films with a ‘Red Triangle’ guaranteed nudity and erotic scenes causing audience figures to actually rise. After some moaning from the likes of Mary Whitehouse – a right-wing puritanical harpy who was a self-appointed anti-everything woman – the ‘Red Triangle’ was vanquished by Channel 4, but not before gaining notoriety and publicity.


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As a teenager I used to look forward to the more risqué content on Channel 4 as the Internet was at the virgin stage and yet to be invented; so titillation was often confined to late night films on a Friday night. Flash forward thirty years and because I’m more mature and it’s very easy to access pornography online I’m not a big fan of overtly sexual material in mainstream or independent features. Not sure why but I prefer subtlety and suggestion over all-out copulation. In Park Chan-Wook’s majestic erotic con-artist thriller there are some wonderfully subtle erotic scenes which raise the blood pressure and enhance the characterisation. There is also some serious scissoring between the two female leads going on too which in my view pushes the boundaries between eroticism, controversy and exploitation. However, this is the line Chan-Wook has always skipped along in classic films such as: Old Boy (2003), Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002), and Thirst (2009).


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The Handmaiden is set in 1930’s Korea amidst the backdrop of the Japanese occupation and the cultural differences between the two nations are expertly drawn and examined in the story. Class differences are also highlighted in a rich text which finds Sook-hee seconded to look after the neurotic Lady Izumi Hideko, who is a ward and being groomed for marriage by her controlling Uncle Kouzuki. I will not give any further of the plot away but safe to say it is an incredibly complex narrative structured into three parts which overlap different perspectives within flashbacks and contrasting character voiceovers and angles.  Did I enjoy it? Absolutely, this is a beautifully shot period masterpiece which I took great pleasure in viewing. In my view the running time was arguably over-long and a couple of the more overt sex scenes could have been trimmed. Nonetheless, the film had me gripped throughout.


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Park Chan-Wook directed a gem of a noir thriller called Stoker (2013) for his first Hollywood film, but here is a bigger-budgeted and thematically richer cinema affair. It takes a complex con-artist-twisting-plot and imbues it with an erotically charged and explicit feminist love story which finds sharp-witted female characters overcoming the dominant and deviant patriarchal beast. Moreover, Chan Wook’s screenplay is a masterful adaptation of the original novel, the wonderfully titled Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. Like the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Christopher Nolan, Jacques Audiard, Michael Haneke to name a few, Chan-Wook’s work is always a must-see-at-the-cinema-event and you don’t need a ‘Red Triangle’ to ensure you watch it.

 (Mark: 9 out of 11)