Excellently made, surprisingly funny and entertaining throughout, Parasite is a deserving Oscar winner and a film you should see in cinemas while you have the chance.
In South Korea, down and out family the Kims live in a squalid half basement apartment, struggling to make ends meet. However, when son Ki-Woo (Choo Woo-shik) gets the chance to take over a friend’s job as an English tutor at the rich Park family’s home, he seizes the opportunity to get his parents and sister into jobs there.
This is the first foreign language film I’ve reviewed here, mainly down to the fact that Cineworld – and other major chains – just don’t show international films. I’ve seen loads outside of cinemas, but only The Raid (the Indonesian action thriller) in one, in 2011 – and I was one of three in that screening!
My experience lies bare English and American attitudes to international cinema. These films won’t make much money, and so risks aren’t taken to show them, except at arthouse or independent venues. Also, far too many people complain about having to read subtitles – my perspective: get a fucking grip! They’re not hard to read and you’re past that barrier in about two minutes.
It’s rare to be able to congratulate the Oscars and film critics, because Parasite was heralded long before its Best Picture and Director wins. As a result, cinemas have taken the plunge, putting on screenings (Cineworld, to their credit, had an Unlimited screening a few weeks ago, and has got a showing on every day now).
This is great because the film is so damn good, director and co writer Bong Joon-ho having made a name for himself with genre blending films that refuse easy categorisation (dystopian thriller Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton among others, is worth seeing and can be found on Amazon Prime). Parasite is no exception, though its mix of genres and tones are more complementary to one another, ranging from satire to black comedy through to thriller and horror.
His visual direction builds on his great cast and strong and snappy script (cowritten with Han Jin-won), allowing scenes to breathe and locations to steal your attention, while his assured handle on dialogue and tension make for a film constantly playing with assumptions and expectations.
The script is whip smart and hilarious, having a lot to say about class and inequality while not preaching. It wrings humour out of poor and rich alike, nobody (except perhaps the Park children) earning any sympathy! The comedy ranges from mild to jet black, while shifts to more serious moods and feelings flow with the plot (don’t let yourself be spoiled, as there are some excellent twists and turns).
Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography and the spectacular set design make the Kim’s hovel and the Park’s dream mansion feel believably tangible, despite both having been sets! Hong’s work sees the former crassly lit with the grim fluorescence of the inner city, stark and dingy shadows cast by the bizarrely subterranean feel.
The mansion meanwhile is such an amazing home that you want to live there – house wide windows, picture perfect garden and modernist sheens, only accentuated by the creeping in of stark shadows (something more apparent as the Kims infiltrate, and secrets come to life). Jung Jae-il’s very good score is also perfectly matched to the film’s switching focuses.
The cast however make the film great – notably Song Kang-ho as Kim patriarch Kae-taek – a downtrodden, farcical father who changes and develops as the plan beds in. The actor gives a very diverse performance that is hilarious, tragic and intimidating in equal measure, and he’s definitely the star performer.
Choo’s role as Ki-woo sets the plot in motion, and the younger actor depicts conflict as his plan gets more and more complex and complicated, mixing quiet deviousness with growing desperation and concern.
Park So-dam clearly enjoys playing the family’s most venal liar in daughter Ki-jeong, giving that impression of a strident young woman with zero qualms about the situation nor her place in it. Finally, Jang Hye-jin – as mother Choi Yeon-gyo – has the weakest storyline, but her hidden strengths and anger at her lot in life blossom later on.
The Park family are memorable for their mixture of idiocy, snobbery and innocence, Lee Sun-kyun’s Dong-ik the quintessential super rich father, who breezes in and pays someone to do everything. Lee is equal parts insufferable and snide, though manages to inject a little sensitivity as a parent who does care strongly about his children – just not about anyone else.
Cho Yeo-jeong is definitely the strongest performer, her dim rich housewife Choi Yeon-gyo central to most of the farcical comedy. She successfully paints Choi as an utter airhead taken in by the Kim’s plan – yet makes you feel sympathy (despite her wealth and laziness) because she passionately cares about her children. She’s the patsy for most of what transpires, and it’s a brilliant straightman performance the film wouldn’t work without.
Finally, Jung Ji-so engenders most sympathy as daughter Da-hye, just a quiet teenage girl that wants to live like other kids – her family’s wealth holding that back from her. Jung plays easily led and fooled, so you really do pity Da-hye more than anyone else, and is a tragic victim of the Kim’s con on multiple levels.
Lee Jung-eun’s kindly (original) housekeeper for the Parks – Gook Moon-gwang – presents an initial barrier to overcome for the Kims, her performance more layered and interesting than appearances suggest. Park Myung-hoon, as her husband Geun-sae, is a key part of the movie, and his at turns eccentric, manic and tragic role is emblematic of the plot’s messages on class and inequality.
Compared to certain recent films people thought were the best of the year, Parasite is very deserving of its successes. I hope it sets off a greater awareness of foreign and international cinema – subtitles should not be a barrier!