Runtime: 2H 10M
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Production Company: Barunson E&A
When we watch film, TV, documentaries and live performance, I assume we all want to be immersed in a new perspective and an experience expressible within our intelligible world. When familiar or merely astonished, we can denote what makes a good, great or at times even spectacular showing. Hence foreign films tend to be refreshing spectacles, introductions into new modes of life our socially convenient bubbles may not invite. Unless you are a cinephile decorated with an eccentric range of appreciation or a regular cinema-goer and movie fanatic with a string of foreign cult classics under your belt. Or simply a socially aware and engaged member of our society. We parade the in things – until the algorithm dwindles and it is onto the next in thing. If you are not a movie lover, Parasite may just sound like another foreign subtitled film you will never see. Which makes sense, foreign films tend to be hard to find, inaccessible, unless lined and suggested by our now many streaming services.
Though the hype around the masterpiece of Parasite is truly justified. It is nothing short of a remarkable cinema experience. It is magnificently directed and written by one of the stars of Korean New Wave Cinema the now renowned Bong Joon-Ho. Korean New Wave Cinema emerged on the back end of foreign films in Korea, having screen quota laws, limiting the number of days they could play in theatres. This was done to prevent a Hollywood film monopoly extending over their shores and prompted the Korean film industry to look at itself. The wave has been a reaction to what many of its proponents have described as stemming from changes of the cultural and political landscape. With incredible and/or internationally acclaimed films like Oldboy, My Sassy Girl and Joint Security Area, Parasite marks another film stemming from this commendable wave of film. Parasite received the illustrious Palme d’Or, the highest winnable award at the Cannes Film Festival last year. It also swept up at the Academy Awards winning Best Picture, the first foreign film to do so, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. In total so far Parasite has won 185 of its 300 award nominations, which exemplifies the high praise the film has commanded.
In short, Parasite is a dark comedy, which draws upon themes from other genres in an emphatic, genre-blending tale, fixated on class consciousness. It contains aspects of romance but is upheld by cornerstones of infectious comedy, even though in many moments the film seeps into the anxiety of thrillers. It deserves a non-spoiler, no trailer, watch. It whisks this all together with mystery, social realism and aspects of a class-conscious through drama. Hence this is built up in a Shakespearean manner, a collation of so many themes it screens as an entertaining experience. The film had me spellbound to the screen from the beginning. Bong Joon-ho noted an inspiration for this film came in the 1960 melodrama The Housemaid, a house divided by two stories and a tale revolving around class itself. For most of his work, Bong Joon-Ho’s ideas carry an emphasis on class, genre, and films that resonate with an intrigued audience. From the first scene of Parasite it sinks you into class consciousness. The scene dictates character, enamours colour to infer state and space to a point you can be fixated on these factors as important, as the film plays out. It instils the identities of the characters very well by their outlook and space, and it begins with its focus on the Kim family.
The Kim family is led by Bong Joon-Ho’s long time acting companion Song Kang-ho. Song Kang-ho has featured in many of Bong’s previous projects, and he plays the Father of the family in Parasite as Kim Ki-taek. He is a fluid man, in a sense of attempting to weave his way to be better. No matter the circumstance, Kim Ki-taek lives in respect of the randomness that is life. Noting in a scene “the best plan is no plan”. Alongside him the cast is brilliant, and you could gauge their mood through tone, expression, and a budding score that at times frolicked between the comedic moments and fell deaf or zoned in worry when necessary. There were times within this film I cried with laughter, gasped with sheer shock, and winced at the rawness of many moments. The comedy left a lasting impression on me, how well worked and refreshing it was to see comedic spiel from another walk of life. Bong Joon-Ho described his adoration for Song Kang-ho’s acting skills insofar as he has mastered the bridging of genres through subtle moments within his acting. This was evident within the film, as his character carries a splitting tone that may weigh different in distinction to the other’s. It worked supremely well with the compounding of the genres, as it felt as if I watched even expectations of him as a man, which are brought into question until you realise this is their livelihood and we are privy to their actions and desires within it.
The story revolves around the maintenance of the Kim family who live in a shoddy half-basement. A banjiha, which in Korean means a cramped basement flat. The contrast to the rich Park family, who live in a mansion, cleaned and organised by a house nanny, are driven around by a hired driver, and live perched upon a fortune. Though affordable, the living conditions of the half-basement are nonetheless degrading. It is prone to drunken urinating passers-by, road dust, pollutants and anti-pollutant forces. They are hidden away from view, and scheme in what feels like the underbelly of society. This is where I got the first impression of colours. The stark pale green, dirtied walls and hoarded rooms, almost vacant light glistening through the window. The lack of movement of the camera, which brings the claustrophobic habitat of the Kim family to a still. This is what it is. It peers out into a buzzing town through an almost unnoticeable window that peeps over ground from the under. The Park family’s mansion sits upon a Hill, in which one must go upward to reach, which is telling of social hierarchy. The space is bountiful, the green and garden expansive, and each room wider than the entirety of the Kim family’s home.
The scenes manoeuvre around space as it points toward its multi-layered considerations of class. Such as the difference in family structures, and their financial afflictions. The difference in passion and willingness, and their relationships within them. The Kim family are poor, their home is considerably dirty and confined by juxtapose over the course of the film. They are parasitic in behaviour as they attempt to leech off whatever comes their way. Whether it be more shifts, a new job, surrounding free WiFi services that span their area, and fortunes they may not be willing to share. They attempt to maximise opportunity as a necessity rather than want, which is a luxury they do not seem to have. Though what I felt was not a disgust or sheer empathy, but an understanding of their relationship as a poor family attempting to make ends meet through each other. Even in watching for the first time with a friend, he made me realise this family share a strong similarity with other identities in such a position. For instance, our West African heritage, in which utilising what we must to survive and thriving through the dark to make ends meet, is a usual pattern to succeed. The subtle comedic jabs build a comfortability, one in which a family living in recognition of their circumstances, can make. The eagerness to grasp the opportunity and steer clear of situations that could damage that is costly. The way in which the Kim family act, sells this position as a reality, this is how some people are forced to live by the roll of the social dice that is class and status from birth.
Parasite rests on that class consciousness and projection of space by highlighting the division and difference in people. Though the injections of other themes like the aspects of thriller and at times otherworldly appeal are absorbing to a point where they add a wider context to the film. The families are initially introduced through Ki-woo’s, the son of the Kim family, friend Min-hyuk – who needed Ki-woo to replace him as a tutor at this rich family’s home. A successful college student, Min-hyuk trusts Ki-woo to replace and look after Da-Hye for him, who he has fallen for and encourages Ki-woo to take advantage of this opportunity to make money. This scenario is true to a degree, taken from Bong Joon-Ho’s experience of being a tutor to a rich family – he has some first-hand experience. Ki-woo is dubbed as Kevin, English named as one of the subjects he teaches would be, hired by the Mother to teach Da-Hye. This is where the movement and interest of the cinematography expand to allow the spaciousness to uphold the contrast as an issue, or rather something to manipulate.
As rich and successful as the Park family seem to be, their relaxed behaviour and lapsed life together as a family unit, is not as strong or rather parasitic as the Kim family who move in unison like a rampant virus. The mansion is towering, ceiling raised, opposed to boxed, like the cramped half-basement. There is a boom in hue with beautiful brown and an abundance of light. The gorgeous home and non-suffocating room, an elevation in comparison to the sunken atmosphere the half-basement hosts, is somewhat belittling to witness but a testament to a change in the environment that Kevin and his family yearns for. Though Kevin also recognises the social hierarchy that comes with such territory. To escape the conceded tragedy that is their home and situation, the Kim family must grasp for more – and the film exacts this journey through a tremendous 2 hour and 10-minute trial of a film.