At the 2020 Golden Globes ceremony, after winning Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language, Director Bong Joon-ho said this, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” There is a wealth of amazing cinema, particularly South Korean cinema, particularly from Bong Joon-ho and Parasite is no exception.
Parasite is a film about family and survival. When Ki-Woo (Woo-sik Choi), the youngest in the struggling Kim family is introduced to the wealthy Park family with a job opportunity, he jumps at the chance to make some money and take a peek into the life of wealth and luxury. Through some quick thinking and some moves that would make any con artist jealous, the entire Kim family is able to insinuate their way into the Park’s home. His father (Kang-ho Song) is the family’s driver, his mother (Hye-jin Jang) is the housekeeper, and his sister (Yeo-jeong Jo) the art therapist for the young son. The plan has worked and they are enjoying the benefits of wealth for the first time.
The film starts off as a movie we have all seen before, exploring the upstairs/downstairs relationships, the economic disparity and social gap. The poor and unfortunate doing everything they can do survive. But to its credit, there is nothing dull about the first hour. Thanks in no small part to its amazing cast.
Which brings us into the second half of this film. The Kim family, living in a sub street level apartment, who nightly have to chase away the town drunk from urinating in front of their dining room window are suddenly in a place they could only dream about. The Park family is gone on a trip, leaving the house open to the Kims to take advantage of the finer things in life. Instead of urinating vagrants, they have a beautiful view of the greenest garden. The steps taken by the family to get to this point have been out of desperation and a little bit of luck. There would be no reason for this family to be in this house, drinking fancy whiskey and eating on furniture that is no doubt more expensive then their entire apartment. When they are having this moment of eating and drinking as a family, the doorbell rings and that sets into motion the rest of the film, which can only be described as a Hitchcockian thriller. There will be no heavy spoilers here, suffice to say that it is unexpected and truly inspired writing. The metaphors of the one percenters and social injustice are easy to make, even the screenplay eludes to such things, the phrase “It’s a metaphor” is exclaimed twice in fact. What resonated with me is the role of the father.
Kang-ho Song is not new to Bong’s films or putting in some amazing acting. Having been in some of the directors previous films, really stands out in Memories of Murder. It is absolutely time that he starts to get some recognition as one of todays best working actors. The complexity of being unable to provide for his family and feeling inadequate in his role as a father is heartbreaking to watch. He does his best to keep his family together and ultimately sacrifices everything to right the wrongs he feels have been unjustly placed upon him. The end of the film is so over the top, it forces you to look past the narrative and focus on the class warfare that is literally exploding on screen.
This is a dark comedy, and at times a tense thriller, it even has some horror elements. It is no understatement that this is one of the best films of the year and deserves to be talked about. The writing and direction are from that of an accomplished auteur at his peak, I only hope that this film will get the recognition it deserves so we can see so much more. Not only from Bong, but from foreign and marginalized voices who have so much to tell us.