Parasite

Posted: March 13, 2020 in Film reviews
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Directed by Bong Joon-ho. Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun, Jang Hye-jin.

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The impoverished Kim family live hand to mouth in Seoul in a small semi-basement and earn a pittance folding pizza boxes. One day the son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) is visited by an old friend who tells him he’s been tutoring the daughter of a wealthy family, but since he has to go and study abroad he suggests Ki-woo take his place. Ki-woo isn’t sure but with the help of some forged documents courtesy of his artistic sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam) he visits the luxurious hillside house owned by the Park family, where he impresses Mrs Park into giving him a job.

Soon he begins inveigling the rest of his family into menial jobs working for the Park family, but how long can they keep the charade up for? Especially when a curious secret is revealed?

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Sometimes you watch an Oscar winning film and wonder what all the fuss was about. Sometimes you watch an Oscar winning film and understand implicitly. I recall watching The Artist and loving it from the first moment, and if I didn’t love Parasite quite so quickly, it wasn’t very long at all before I was enraptured by the shenanigans of the sly Kim family.

It’s best not to know too much about Parasite, and in many respects it’s hard to pin down as a film. For example I’d been led to believe it was in part a horror film, but while I can see why people think this, to me it works far better as a black comedy, albeit one that gets darker and darker and darker…

If you’re concerned that subtitles will form a barrier to understanding this film, then please don’t worry. I had no trouble following the plot, and the subtitles proved no barrier to enjoying the film’s humour (and it is very funny) or understanding its biting social satire, though here the film is more nuanced than it first appears. Are the Kim family the parasites for living off the Park’s money, or are the Parks actually the parasites for living off the labour of the Kim family? The upcoming black and white version might blur the lines even more.

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I’ve seen someone suggest this felt like a (very dark and at times violent) Ealing comedy, and I think they hit the nail right on the head. They may be duplicitous but you can’t help rooting for the Kim family. My feelings towards certain characters did shift as the film continued, and relationships that at first seem friendly soon become something else entirely, and while it might be fair to say there are no real bad guys in this film, it would equally be fair to say there are no real good guys either.

The contrast between the luxury home of the Parks (all steel and glass with an actual lawn) and the almost subterranean existence of the Kims (and the semi basements are a genuine feature of South Korea) isn’t subtle, but then this is a film that early on has a character keep referring to things as “That’s so metaphorical”. The respective homes do make for some amusing scenes (find the wi-fi is a particular joy) but also some heart-breaking ones.

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I do need to stress, this may be a film with a message, but it works on multiple levels—Director Bong’s direction is very good without being flashy, but there’s some wonderful imagery, especially during a monstrous rainstorm late on in the film, and his cast are excellent, with special mention having to go to Song Kang-ho as the father of the Kim family, an earthy, slovenly man who nonetheless earns our sympathy. Really everyone is great in this however.

It isn’t perfect, while it never drags it does feel just a tad too long, and the ending seems a little unsatisfying, but any flaws are incredibly minor and in no way marred my enjoyment, and I think this is a film that will only get better with repeat viewings. Don’t be put off by the subtitles, because if you are, you’ll miss a real treat because this is very, VERY good film that richly deserved a gold statuette (and maybe should have picked up a few more.)

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