Parasite won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes this May. I watched it at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and reviewed it for Asian American Press in September. I thank AAPress for the permission to re-post my full review here on Ripple Effects. The film is now released in selective theatres.
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho can make social statements in the most unconventional ways, like through the friendship between a child and a giant pig in Okja (2017) to draw awareness to our meat-obsessed economy, or, environmental warnings in the apocalyptic action thriller Snowpiercer (2013).
His latest work, the 2019 Cannes Palme d’Or winning Parasite, has its Canadian Premiere at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival in September. Its subject matter––the gap between the rich and the poor in contemporary Asian society––had been covered by two acclaimed productions at Cannes last year, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, and Burning, which brought South Korean Lee Chang-dong a Best Director win. Under Bong’s helming, the subject matter is approached with a fresh, new take showcasing his signature audacious and inventive handling.
With Parasite, Bong has surpassed himself by delivering a genre-fusing feature, confronting economic disparity in his home country of South Korea. It opens as a dark comedy filled with funny tricks and clever twists, then develops with rising suspense while still keeping its comedic styling, eventually rolling into a chaotic mayhem of an action thriller.
Living in a cramped and squalid semi-basement unit, the Kim family takes up odd jobs to scrape by. They are father Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), mom Chung-sook (Hyae Jin Chang) and their adult son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) and daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park). The son has failed the university entrance exam four times. As we learn in the film, in a society where an opening for a security guard position could attract 500 university level applicants, the Kims have no luck but to share the plight of unemployment.
One day Ki-woo meets an old school friend who is going away for a short while. He recommends Ki-woo take over his tutoring job at the rich Park family to help their daughter with English. Mr. Park (Sun-kyun Lee) is the president of a high-tech company. Ki-woo accepts the challenge with apprehension, but knowing the opportunities this could open up, he forges ahead. With a little help from his artistically inclined sister, Ki-woo heads to the Parks’ residence and presents his best self to the lady of the house, Mrs. Park, the beautiful but naive wife Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo). Ki-woo is hired on the spot and thus begins a life-altering adventure and mishaps for both families.
The Park family of four lives in an architect-designed residence, with lush grounds and gardens. As he gets to know the teenaged Park daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso) and her younger brother Da-song (Jung Hyeon Jun), the quick-thinking Ki-woo begins to pave a path for his own family members to benefit from his new position. Anything more mentioned here will be spoilers to some clever and funny plot lines.
Another crucial character living in the luxury abode is the housekeeper Moon-Gwang (Lee Jung Eun). A long-time resident in the estate as she has been working there since the previous ownership. She is an indispensable help to the Parks’ daily living. Moon-Gwang gives the impression of a Mrs. Danver type of character as in Hitchcock’s Rebecca. With Bong’s script, there’s always something more than the appearance conveys.
A distinguished feature of the film is the original soundtrack by Korean composer Jaeil Jung. Classical styling from full orchestral to piano, harpsichord, strings, and percussions, the music in Parasite is a major force augmenting the suspense and the overall storytelling, as well as enhancing the production with a touch of elegance. Just listening to the soundtrack is an enjoyment in itself.
Parasite is slick and smooth-pacing, towards the end, it turns into a Bong-style action thriller, bloody and graphic. Snowpiercer comes to mind. Can the rich and the poor live peacefully together? No answer is offered here, for nothing is as simple as it appears. What Bong presents with Parasite is a scenario provoking the imaginary. The bottom line could well be just the wild wide of pure entertainment.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
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