Parasite: Movie Review
With the Oscar wins, I figure I have to finally put in my review on Parasite, a film I watched months previously. Parasite falls into the indie thriller genre of films that normally wouldn't pique my attention, save for the large amount of hype it received among US audiences. While more dark and morbid than the movies I find myself leaning into these days, I was thoroughly entertained throughout its run time and sucked into the many twists.
Like most things, it's a story better enjoyed spoiler-free, so that you can be properly caught off guard when the movie suddenly veers into a new direction. What makes it unique is that it successfully weaves between entire genres, moving with steadfast strength from comedy to drama to horror. It's for sure worth a watch, if only for the very effective and relevant social commentary it makes.
Parasite centers around two families, and is studded with recognizable Korean stars that will be familiar to many Kdrama viewers (I for one recognized all of the main cast, and that partly played to my joy at witnessing their well-deserved wins at the Oscars). The first and primary family are the Kim's, who are extremely poor and live in a basement apartment unit with no wifi. Since it is below ground, the unit is subject to all sorts of elements, including visits from passerbys, bug bombs, and other ground-level challenges, quite literally showing their low-level status in society.
The second family are the Parks, who enter the Kim's acquaintance through chance and then manipulation. The Parks are extremely well off and live in a beautiful architectural masterpiece on a hill ("high-society"), with their own driver and housekeeper.
It's this financial divide between the families that the movie showcases, to comical effect early on, and then to increasing extremes as the story progresses. The movie does manage to keep a frenetic pace throughout, never letting the viewer go into a lull and constantly keeping us guessing. It's also beautifully filmed and well-deserving of its Best Director nod for the incredible attention to detail in all of its moments. The scenes taking place in the Kim's home are shot with a green, dark tinge, while the scenes taking place in the Park's home are generally warm-toned and bright (save for the moments of panic and the entire basement). There's a literal divide between the two classes, even while all the characters stand together and live in the same place.
As mentioned, I'm definitely a bit of a wuss and for that reason didn't necessarily enjoy watching the violent ends that Parasite showcases. That said, I do think Parasite artfully threads a fine line, becoming graphic and horrific enough to leave a lasting impact upon its audience, but also managing to not become excessive or gratuitous in its violence. Its message is serious and its consequences dire, so for that reason I understand the need for showing us the extreme ends the characters come to.
While the initial viewing wasn't per se pleasant all the way through, it remains a film with lasting power, which I found myself thinking over and admiring even more after watching. My ultimate test for a film or show is whether I would rewatch it, and the answer is a resounding yes to Parasite. In fact, I'm excited for a rewatch, as I'm sure I'll be more attuned to the many embedded messages and directorial touches in a second viewing.
In terms of the story itself, income inequality is one of those causes that few in the US (and the world) can claim to be not impacted by in our society today. The Washington Post published an article illustrating how the US is far more inequitable in its wealth gap than Korea; this is an issue that comes to the forefront each day especially in the major cities where many of the younger generation lives. I'm glad that Parasite manages to showcase this message, and yet to never makes it in a preachy or heavy manner.
Indeed, much of the appeal for Parasite is how realistically flawed all of its characters are. The Kim's are pitiable yet also laughable through much of the movie, seeming all too adjusted with living in the shadows and frankly garnering little sympathy when we witness how callously they dethrone the existing help (from the driver to the housekeeper). It's almost an act of karma for the repercussions of their actions to be so severe, for them to realize that for them to gain, they must squash the existing "parasites". In parallel, the Park's come across as naive yet never villainous, despite their ditzy caricatures and contrasting mountain of wealth.
Part of that is no doubt in the casting - both Lee Sun Kyung and Cho Yeo Jung have been leading stars in plenty of their own dramas and movies, and naturally elicit audience sympathies and respect. They are dressed to the nines and play perfectly on the part of the pretty and nice-enough rich, who unknowingly are the only thing standing between extreme poverty for the families feeding from them.
And lastly are Gook Moon Gwang, the housekeeper, and her bug-like, dehumanized husband Geun Sae. They represent the very bottom of the wealth ladder and are quite literally cockroach-like in their hidden existence below the kitchen, feeding off the naive Park's through leftover scraps and living in a windowless cell of a space. When it becomes a battle between them and the Kim's, I was left to naturally sympathize with the Kim's, because it truly felt like these two represented the scum of humanity.
As we soon witness, both Gook and her husband are only hair away from losing their sanity once their livelihood is taken away, and it's this obvious madness and craze that makes them fascinating yet repugnant to us as viewers. While the Kim's may be using low levels of manipulation and are similarly desperate in seeking their financial well-being, they haven't yet fully lost their dignity as these two have. Indeed, these two families represent the two forms of poverty, and the movie quickly makes it clear that at any moment anyone can fall to these levels when their society creates a system in which they are unable to survive through an honest living.
While we see everything through the perspective of the Kim's, it wasn't until the very end that I truly felt any real empathy towards them. When we finally see the hidden morse code message that Ki Taek has been tapping for his son each night, and see that beautiful yet completely unattainable dream that Ki Woo has to someday free his father, I was hit with first false hope and then a cold realization.
Indeed, I read that Bong Joon Ho intended for the final scene, when the camera goes from the glowy dream reunion with his father to a pan-down on Ki Woo sitting in the dark on his bed, to squash all of the audience's hope that he can ever save Ki Taek. The song Ki Woo sings for the closing credits is meant to convey how even if he worked over 500 years he would be unable to earn enough money to purchase the house in which his father is essentially a living dead. It's this moment that is so powerful and clenches the movie's achievement, explicitly calling out how unfair our societal structures have become to those at the bottom.
The performances all around in this film were fantastic, although no single actor stands out above the rest. It really is an ensemble piece, and very much deserving of the ensemble acting accolades it won in the Screen Guild Awards and others. Song Kang Ho deserves a call out if any, as his performance truly builds up and hits a pinnacle in the final moments of the film. I was quite surprised to see Lee Jung Eun (the loving yet tough mother in When the Camellia Blooms) play such a dark and twisty role and was also impressed with Choi Woo Shik's pathos as such a young actor.
I also am fairly new to director Bong Joon Ho, particularly as someone who's spent far more time in the realm of Korean dramas than Korean movies. I was impressed with his dark yet witty style in Parasite, and recently watched his similar class-struggle focused Snowpiercer (on Netflix, and similarly dark and thought provoking, although I give Parasite the win). His Best Director speech was certainly the stuff of mushy legends, and his homage to Martin Scorsese both touching and revealing. Indeed, if I had to compare Parasite to the more high-budget yet ultimately less pithy Snowpiercer, there truly is something to be said about focusing one's energies on telling the stories that feel closer to you personally.
My goal now is to get my hands on Memories of Murder (why is this so hard to find online?) as well as to watch the Netflix-produced Okja. I'm also eager to watch Cho Yeo Jung's new drama Woman of 9.9 Billion, which I've heard holds many similar themes to Parasite but in bingeable drama form (plus I'm just happy to see she's thriving as an actress still, after what feels like many years of lesser-known roles).
Overall, as someone who's spent nearly a decade consuming Korean and pan-Asian shows and movies, I couldn't help but beam upon seeing the world recognize the entertainment offerings from this part of the world. It's a win for diversity, even on a night that leading up to was widely criticized for the lack of it. I'm excited that subtitled, international entertainment is no longer the niche novelty it once was, and that more and more people around the world are getting to enjoy it. It means there'll hopefully be more people for me to discuss with, and also more recognition for the wide breadth of genres and shows created globally.
Also just adding, Kingdom Season 2 is coming out March 13th (Friday the 13th) and I'm so, so excited. Hoping that show will also get much deserved love and recognition, because I need more people to talk to about it :)