ACT LIKE YOU OWN THE PLACE.
As fall descended on us this year, it became increasingly clear that class warfare was going to be a huge theme at the movies. Three well-made films dealt with the subject in different ways. Hustlers depicting strippers who become con artists targeting Wall Street men; Joker turning the comic-book character into a hero for a rioting Gotham City working class; and Parasite introducing us to a family that have figured out a clever way to get their share of Korean wealth. The first two films do not dig deeper beyond entertainment, even if Joker is disturbing. Parasite not only amuses us, but goes straight to our heart.
Taking a job as a tutor
We meet the Kim family who are not in a good place. Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) is an unemployed driver living with his wife Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) and teenage children, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and Ki-jung (Park So-dam) in a small basement apartment. It’s the kind of home strangers mistake for an empty alley corner where they can relieve themselves, right outside the Kims’ kitchen window. One day, a student friend of Ki-woo’s shows up. He’s leaving the country and tells Ki-woo that he should take his job as an English tutor for the daughter of a rich family, the Parks.
At first Ki-woo hesitates, but when he visits the family he’s hired and realizes that Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) is easily fooled. Soon, he finds ways to bring one family member after another into the Parks’ employment.
Should convince any doubters left
There were fans of director Bong Joon-ho who argued that Mother (2009) and Snowpiercer (2013), at the times of their premiere, were examples of his brilliance. For me, this is the film that should convince any doubters left that this guy is a master. Bong is a very versatile filmmaker, obvious already in his international breakthrough, a monster movie called The Host (2006), but this story touches me in a way that none of his previous films have.
Above all, it has a phenomenal script that remains flawless throughout; it’s just an ingenious, unpredictable and exciting story that underlines the gut-wrenching difference between the haves and the have-nots, but never in a way that feels sentimental or overly familiar. The title essentially describes the Kim family, four people who become part of the Parks’s lives without ever telling them that they are related and have manipulated their way into the household. Their aim is really to get away from their disgusting apartment and hopeless lives, enjoying the riches whenever the host family turn their backs. But things aren’t that simple and when the Kims one rainy night let a former housekeeper back into the Park household, a huge secret is revealed and everything changes. A very tangible struggle develops with bloody consequences.
At first, the film has a light tone in its depiction of the Kims and their scheme, but in the second half it becomes clear how much suffering there is in their lives while the Park family’s greatest concern is trying to organize a successful garden party. Their modern home, specially designed by an architect, plays as much of a role in the movie as the characters, a place where wealth is displayed and dreams come true while nightmares and poverty are hidden in secret places. Fans of the director will recognize themes from his earlier films here, not least Snowpiercer and its brutally separated classes.
The cast is impressive, with Song and Cho delivering the film’s outstanding performances, as a man who’s constantly reminded of his inferior status because of his smell, and a comfortable woman who’s not dumb but hopelessly naive. Lee Jung-eun also deserves plaudits as the devoted (and very combative) housekeeper.
Parasite 2019-South Korea. 132 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Bong Joon-ho, Moon Yang-kwon, Kwak Sin-ae. Directed by Bong Joon-ho. Screenplay: Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won. Cast: Song Kang-ho (Kim Ki-taek), Jang Hye-jin (Kim Chung-sook), Choi Woo-shik (Kim Ki-woo), Park So-dam (Kim Ki-jung), Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong.
Trivia: Original title: Gisaengchung. Also released in a black-and-white version.
Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, International Feature. Golden Globe: Best Foreign Language Film. BAFTA: Best Original Screenplay, Film Not in the English Language. Cannes: Palme d’Or.
Last word: “The true horror and fear of ‘Parasite’ isn’t just about how the present-day situation is bad but that it will only continue to get worse. That’s my own fear in my life. I’m 50 now, so I’m going to die in about 30 years. My son is 23 now. When he reaches middle age, after I die, will it get better? I don’t know. I’m not so hopeful. Still, we have to try to live happily. We can’t cry every day.” (Bong, Vulture)