There was a moment, a tangible moment, where Director Bong transcended from “well-respected director” and became a bona-fide Savior of Cinema. It was right after Parasite won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language. It was a significant win, signaling many more to come (not that we knew that at the time). Director Bong got on the stage, along with his translator Sharon Choi, and proceeded to deliver this iconic quote: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”
It’s been five months since Parasite was released in the US last year, and just one month since its historic (and well-deserved) win at the Academy Awards, so famous for getting it so spectacularly wrong, who here got it spectacularly right (it’s a decision so good, it almost makes up for Green Book two years ago. You know, almost). Here’s how you know this one’s gonna last, how we’ve got a long-lasting masterpiece on our hands; it’s been a month, and the feeling about Parasite winning all those Oscars is still one of elation. Apart from some inane ramblings from our Commander in Chief (weird, how easy it is to block that out after a while. We’ve had some practice…), there’s been absolutely nothing substantial in the way of pushback, or backlash, or any “Hot Takes” about the validity of the movie; was Parasite reeeeeeeeaaaally that good? Everyone seems to be on the same page that, yes, yes it was. Parasite is now in the coveted position that films like Schindler’s List, No Country for Old Men or Unforgiven have, where there were other good movies that came out those years (seriously go back and look; 2007 was stacked when it came to content), but general consensus seems to be, “Yeah that was the right call.”
Months (and many viewings) later, what I initially said about Parasite still holds true. If you’ve not seen it yet, the best thing to do is to go in as blind as possible. The joy of Parasite has to do with how seamlessly Director Bong (who wrote the movie along with Han Jin-own) toys with expectations; I mentioned in my initial review that, for American audiences who only know Director Bong through his slightly straighter genre pieces, like his monster movie sendup The Host, or his action movie Snowpiercer, the free range he has over every genre or tone in the book might throw them for a loop. Is this a drama? A comedy? A parable? A social satire? Who cares? It’s anything and everything, and it is magnificent.
As has been said before, and with more eloquence, the parasites in Parasite are very human. Or maybe it’s society. Either way Parasite has to do with an impoverished, unemployed family of four; a son, a daughter, a father and a mother. There is a striking opening scene in which a fumigation crew starts dusting the street outside, and the family makes the decision to leave their windows open. After all, this way their roach problem gets dealt with. For free! Things kick off when a friend of Ki-woo—the son in the family—asks him to fill in as a tutor to the daughter of a rich family. The friend is going on vacation, and doesn’t trust any of the other tutors at his school not to make lecherous advances at the rich family’s underage daughter. He suggests to Ki-woo that the latter assumes his identity; a deception, sure, but a harmless one.
Things take an interesting turn when Ki-woo – under the assumed name “Kevin” – first arrives at the house of the wealthy Park family. Or, more accurately, their mansion. They live on a hill in the sky, surrounded by luxury, with wide open space and amenities as far as the eye can see. The contrast between them and the Kim family – who we see live in a sub-basement hovel that routinely gets pissed on by drunk passerbys – is striking. The difference between the two families is made immediately apparent; their social standing is emphasized by the geography. They are literally miles above the poor. Thanks to the hedges, they don’t even have to look at them most of the time.
Upon finding himself immersed in their world, “Kevin” concocts a plan. It’s innocent enough – the Park family’s hyperactive son needs an art therapist, and in an apparently off-the-cuff flash of inspiration, Ki-woo suggests his sister. Never mind that she’s not got a degree in any of the places “Kevin” suggests that she has; a bit of light forgery will soon fix that. As for the fact that she’s got no idea what the responsibilities of an art therapist actually are? Eh, she can fake it ‘till she makes it.
It’s down to Director Bong’s extraordinary skills as a storyteller that I still didn’t quite know where the story was going from this point forward. It was only when Ki-jung – AKA “Jessica” – engaged in a blatant act of manipulation in order to get the Park family driver fired, that I began to connect the dots. Sure enough, for a while there Parasite becomes a downright Hitchcokian thriller of false identity and unbearable suspense, as slowly but surely the entire Kim family has invaded the home of the Park family, posing as the help.
And that’s only the beginning. From there, well, that’s where the conversation lies. Is Parasite a scathing satire on Capitalism? Is it – I already did this multiple questions thing earlier. Here’s what it is; brilliant, and totally in control of itself. It completely and perfectly wrangles every plot thread and thematic undercurrent in a fashion that seems singular. It’s multiple messages, but at all times, it all seems to be coalesced into one message. Like I said in my initial review, I never felt that Director Bong was just throwing whatever he wanted at the wall, and seeing what stuck. There’s a purpose to every tonal shift; absolutely none of it is “random.” Every zany digression, or apparent non-sequitur, it’s all built into the very fabric of the film. And the end result is a film experience that I couldn’t predict the end of, or even the next scene of, but in the end it all worked.
There are layers upon layers to Parasite. This is a smart, complex, important, but ultimately enjoyable movie, and you have no idea how much it warms my heart and gives me hope that so many American audiences responded so rapturously to its release. Director Bong knows the score: once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you really will be introduced to so many more amazing films. Trust me; it’s true.
Review by Sam Stashower