DIR: Joon-ho Bong • WRI: Joon-ho Bong, Jin Won Han • DOP: Kyung-pyo Hong • ED: Jinmo Yang • DES: Kave Quinn • PRO: Kwak Sin Ae, Moon Yang Kwon, Jang Young Hwan • MUS: Jaeil Jung • DES: Ha-jun Lee • CAST: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo
Bong Joon Ho’s pitch-black quasi comic-drama, thriller has made cinematic history. The first South Korean film to win the Palme D’Or, the first film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and Best International Picture; as well as awards for Original Script and Director. The accolades also include Golden Globes, BAFTAs and so on and on. It is truly the cinematic darling of the moment and possibly the most successful South Korean film of all time. But is this tale of impoverished interlopers any good?
Not for want of trying the Kim family live in poverty, in a dingy basement that consists of very little but memories of better days and a raised toilet that shares space with everything else in the household. When we meet the Kim family they are piggybacking on the upstairs neighbours Wi-Fi in their efforts to apply for jobs and change their place in the world. Soon a job opportunity comes along; the son is asked by his more successful middle class friend to give private English tuition to the daughter of a rich family. The friend is going on sabbatical and does not trust his fellow college students to give tuition to the girl whom he is smitten with. Fool him. Of course the wealthy family will not take on any old English tutor, so subterfuge and a little credential forging help ensure he gets the job. Soon more opportunities are contrived to get family members positions of work in the wealthy household and each opportunity requires more ingenuity and less morality than the last. It seems the Kim family might be capable of anything to continue their success. By this point Ho has created a tense and uncomfortable home invasion scenario that could go anywhere. To say anymore would spoil this screw turning drama.
Ho has been seen as a breath of fresh air since he began his career; known for genre bending (something he says was never intended) and a quirky mix of dark suspense and humour. What he does best is create characters that defy the usual mainstream interpretations. Allegiances and attitudes toward his protagonists and antagonists are consistently turned upside down. The term villain can rarely find a true place in a Bong Joon Ho film because he finds the humanity in everyone despite his or her flaws.
Parasite is the essence of this attitude in his storytelling, also present in large dollops is his love of Hitchcock, which has been noted in his work many times. For once comparisons with the master are relevant unlike the superficial comparisons usually thrown at filmmakers. This is not to deny his own identity and skills as a filmmaker. What he brings of the Hitchcockian sensibility is purer than stealing tropes or cinematic tricks. Ho understands emphatically the human element at the heart of all good Hitchcock tales. That complicit mood Hitchcock wanted his audiences to feel; those voyeurs in the dark. Never let the audience off the hook, Hitchcock once said. Ho achieves this in spades and with more than one hook.
Some may not find the ending to their taste but it is to be argued that this sort of story could never have an ending anyone is going to be truly satisfied with. Whatever you might think of its ending there is no doubting that Ho manages to entertain us in getting there and leaves us thinking about our humanity and responsibilities to each other in a world where economic injustices are more out of control than they have ever been.
16 (see IFCO for details)
Parasite is released 7th February 2020