Parasite – A brilliant movie about poverty, class difference and family
This past awards season, one unprecedented movie swept the entire world of cinema off its metaphorical feet – the South Korean psychological horror Parasite. I could not catch the movie in the theaters, so when Amazon Prime Video started streaming it recently, I had to pop some corn and set up my Bluetooth speaker to find out for myself why everyone was marveling over it and if it was truly worth all the uproar (yes, I am skeptical like that).
This review is full of spoilers, so move on to the next paragraph only if you have already watched Parasite or if you are a 100% sure that you are never going to watch it, ever (which, let me be straight with you, I would emphatically advise against). No other excuse is acceptable.
First South Korean movie to win Best International Film Oscar
I am not proud to say it, but this is the first Korean language movie I have watched. So far, my exposure to Korean cinema was limited to sloppy Hollywood remakes. But it’s all good. My introduction to this new world of masterful artistry could not have been through a better host (no pun intended) than Parasite.
Parasite – let me start here, with the film’s name. If I could, I would give this production an Oscar just for coming up with such an apt name. A parasite leeches off a perfect, healthy, unwary host for food and habitat. Imagine a tapeworm inside you (it is gross and possibly painful to imagine this, but please do, because it really helps with the metaphor). This tapeworm, this parasite, is fighting for resources – nutrition and living space. You as the host are calm and composed because the tapeworm has not announced its presence yet – there are no conspicuous symptoms whatsoever. Now imagine a second tapeworm, which also manages to stealthily penetrate your body’s defenses and find a place to live, eat and flourish. What would happen if the second parasite gets to know that there is already someone living off this host, and worse, that this other parasite is threatening to expose their presence to you – the host?
A genius portrayal of the gap between rich and poor
Parasite revolves around three families. The rich and borderline dysfunctional Park family plays the host in this biological allegory, with actors Lee Sun-kyun and Jang Hye-jin respectively playing Mr. and Mrs. Park. The couple has a teenage daughter Da-hye and a young son Da-song. The first parasite to enter this host family was Gook Moon-gwang, the Park family’s longtime housekeeper. As it is later revealed in the movie, Moon-gwang has been hiding her fugitive husband (played by Park Myung-hoon) in a secret bunker under the Park mansion’s basement without so much as a whisper to the Park family.
Enter the second parasite – the protagonist Kim family. Song Kang-ho and Jang Hye-jin portray Mr. and Mrs. Kim, respectively. Like the Parks, they also have two children, a son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and a daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam). Just six minutes into the movie, you get to know many key facts about the Kim family. One, they are not as well-to-do as they want to be but are very internet-savvy people. Two, they live off folding pizza boxes surrounded by stinky insects but are not too good at their job. And three, they are great at manipulating others to get what they want.
Manipulations that unfold like clockwork
Things get dramatic when Ki-woo, upon his friend’s recommendation, gets himself a job as an English tutor for Da-hye (the Parks’ daughter), pretending to have a degree that he wishes to earn some day (the Kim children are quite talented at convincingly feigning talent). One lusty look at the Park family’s resplendent mansion is enough for Ki-woo to trigger into motion a series of shrewd manipulations that unfold like clockwork and get every single member of the Kim family a job in the Park household. Ki-jung becomes Da-song’s art teacher-cum-therapist, Mr. Kim takes place of their chauffeur and Mrs. Kim replaces the housekeeper Moon-gwang after she loses her job due to a rather conniving scheme engineered by the Kims. However, as far as the naïve and gullible Park family is concerned, the Kims are not even acquainted with one another.
One fateful night, as the Parks go camping to celebrate Da-song’s birthday, the Kims take the liberty of making themselves at home in the Park mansion. Their relentless overstaying the Parks’ welcome is interrupted by Moon-gwang as she returns to feed her husband who has still been living in the underground bunker even though she is no longer working there. A series of mishaps follow as secrets are revealed and threats are made.
In a turn of events, the Kims somehow manage to escape unseen from the mansion after the Parks announce a sudden return from their camping trip on account of the campsite being flooded due to torrential rains. It is at this point in the movie that we also get to witness the true genius of director Bong Joon-ho. As the Kims reach the dilapidated locale they actually live in, they are faced with the brutal reality that their real house has been inundated by floodwater. Bong skillfully uses this plot-point to show some uncanny similarities in the situations of the Kims in their home and a lethally injured Moon-gwang and her husband in the Park mansion’s bunker. Moon-gwang throws up in a toilet in the bunker while, in a parallel scene, the toilet in the flooded Kim household regurgitates sewage all over Ki-jung. Moon-gwang’s husband desperately bangs his head against the light switches to send a Morse code of flickering lights to the outside world, while light bulbs in the Kim household flicker due to the flood-affected, broken electrical connections. Just sheer brilliance.
Parasite is a wonderfully crafted movie
As the film comes close to its end after a grand reveal and some unfortunate gore, it does a great job of skyrocketing the audience’s hopes for the Kim family – which gets the audience to feel for it, despite its wrong-doings and shortcomings – and then bringing them crumbling down to the ground. Yet, an elegant end to a wonderfully crafted movie.
The film boasts of some effective performances, crisp editing and amazing direction. My only problem is with how different online platforms have called Parasite a tragicomedy or a black comedy thriller. I am sorry folks, but I just don’t see it. Unless the dubbing and the subtitles left out some particularly comic dialogues, Parasite is as serious as poverty, famine and floods. As for Bong Joon-ho, I am rooting for him to become the next Alfonso Cuarón or Alejandro González Iñárritu in Hollywood. As Martin Scorsese said to Bong after the 92nd Academy Awards, we cannot wait to see what this gem of a storyteller presents to us next.
The film boasts of some effective performances, crisp editing and amazing direction. It definitely deserved every Oscar win!
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