It is a rare occurrence that an Eastern film would get any mainstream attention upon its initial release in the West. Most often it is not an issue of quality, but culturally, there can often be a bigger disconnect between audiences with content than opposed to that of other Western films. So, when a South Korean movie like “Parasite” comes around and begins to make a lot of noise at film festivals and early screenings, my curiosity cannot help but be piqued. There must be something about this particular film that helps it transcend cultural and language barriers and that element must be special.
As it turns out, there is a multitude of factors that help make “Parasite” the phenomenon it is being propped up as. For starters, the story about the lower-income Kim family systematically infiltrating and scamming the upper-class Park family until their actions come to a head is an incredibly enthralling premise that never lets up. The sequences in the first act of the film where they, one-by-one, manipulate the members of the elite family to gain their trust and employment draw comparisons to a much more subtle and nuanced version of an “Oceans 11” heist. There are moments of incredibly stressful suspense that are not brought on by anything more than the proximity to consequences and this is a continued mechanism that grows as the plot develops. This all culminates in a story that is engaging in a way that does not stagnate and continues to keep the audience on its guard for an ever-changing status-quo.
What it comes down to is that the script for “Parasite” is the most tactfully written of any for a film I have seen the entire year. The story is crafted with such a precision that only a few filmmakers with such explicit goals and visions can achieve. However, there is an obstacle that this film faces that Western films do not: translations. When part of the experience of watching a film is a reliance on the audience to read the dialogue, as opposed to effortlessly listen to what is being said, there is an inherent challenge in effectively communicating emotions, exposition, wit, and especially subtlety. This is yet another area where “Parasite” thrives in the face of an uphill battle. I went to see this film with two friends who do not usually watch foreign films and even they say they were constantly engaged with the dialogue, much to their surprise. There are moments of undeniable humor and tension that might have otherwise fallen flat due to the complications, but stand out as genuine triumphs because of how expertly crafted they were.
The entire cast does a noteworthy job in their roles. The Kim family each have their own unique traits of cunning and desperation. So-dam Park’s Ki-Jeong is my personal favorite. She is the Kim family daughter and many of her scenes are the most intelligently manipulative of all while still being some of the funniest bits of dialogue in the film. Kang-ho Song plays the father of the Kim family who is submerged so deeply into his family’s infiltration of the Parks, his growing awareness of how little they care about the workers is the audience’s window into the social commentary. And the Park family presents a great foil to them. They are all, except for their notably gifted young son, incredibly naïve, yet possess so much power. Although they seem to not even be aware of the situation they find themselves in, the present a legitimate presence simply because of their wealth and the influence that provides.
Many films explore the idea of inequality in society, so the subject is not especially new. However, is any idea completely original? What makes “Parasite” stand out is how it goes about constructing an entertaining situation that that is realistic enough to be believable but challenging enough that it stretches the boundaries of the imagination in a thought-provoking manner. The story is fun and that may be the most important reason it effectively communicates its message. Director Bong Joon-Ho deserves all the credit he is receiving for constructing a film like this. He was able to balance themes, a cast of roughly 9 main characters, and a compelling narrative to create an incredibly intense experience with a story that is poignant to all people.
The public has an undeniable curiosity towards what this film is, so much so that it seems to be growing by the day. Most films have their hype slowly begin to fade after a noteworthy genesis, but this movie is showing itself to have legs. “Parasite” has already earned the highest box-office total of any foreign film this year, and it is a status it is in zero jeopardy of losing. We should appreciate the fact that it is adding to an eclectic collection of cinema in 2019, and “Parasite” is a worthy candidate to be in the mix for best film of the year.
I give “Parasite” a 9.3 out of 10
Starring: Kang-Ho Song, Yeo-Jeong Jo, So-Dam Park, Woo-Sik Choi, Sun-Kyun Lee, Ji-So Jung
Directed by: Bong Joon-Ho
Runtime: 2 Hours and 12 Minutes