Parasite (2019), A History-Making Masterpiece

Bong Joon-Ho has been a powerful force in Korean cinema for some time now, with great reception domestically and internationally. Films like Memories of Murder & The Host received critical success both domestically and internationally, which laid the groundwork for his English-language features; Snowpiercer & Okja. But despite the constant buzz around Bong, I’ve never seen so much hype and excitement for any film, his or anyone else’s, like I have for his recent release: Parasite. Opening at Cannes to rave reviews, it has been one of my most anticipated films ever since I first heard about it. I did my absolute best to avoid everything and anything about this film, knowing that I would see it as soon as I could, and I finally got to see it in Cinema this past week and I’m glad to say; it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. 

The film is so perfectly crafted, each element comes together brilliantly to build the finished product. So much so that it’s hard to know where to start when discussing the film. Bong’s concept is great; examining the relationship between two families (the Parks and the Kims), one wealthy and one on the verge of poverty, respectively, as the latter infiltrates the family home of the former under the guise of various jobs: tutor, art therapist, housekeeper and driver. The film tackles the topic of class inequality with a really interesting spin; playing off the title, we initially consider the poorer family to be the parasites; feeding off of the wealth of the other family, but as the film progresses the idea of which family is feeding off of the other is called into question as the stakes get higher for the main family. Bong, along-side co-writer Jin Won Han, created a perfectly balanced screenplay that juggles these issues of class, with a fantastic use of tension, suspense and foreshadowing. The way Bong & Jin create a cast of perfectly mirrored characters, for me, is one of the strongest elements of the film; with each member of the main family acting as a mirrored version of each member of the rich family their job is related to. It creates this fascinating interplay in the story, as it allows the script to fully explore the similarities and differences within the family. 

But this element of the script could never have been done justice if it wasn’t for the absolutely brilliant performances from the whole cast. Fleshing out the Kim family, we see long-time Bong collaborator, Kang-ho Song, as the father of the family, who fails to provide for his family and relies heavily on his son, played by Woo-sik Choi, to provide for the family and deal with their boss & local nuisances. But also Choi’s character ultimately ends up being the one to provide for the family by securing their jobs at the Park family. Kang-Ho Song gives an incredibly intense performance, spending the first half of the film as a fairly placid and timid character, but he completely switches gears in the second half to give an incredibly intense and unnerving performance. Woo-sik Choi gives a brilliant performance, alongside So-dam Park who plays the daughter of the Kim family, as the brains of the family, organising and masterminding the plot to infiltrate the Park family, both manage to balance their character’s cockiness in the first half with the pressed and out-of-their depth feeling in the second half. Both are given ample time to shine with some absolutely brilliant scenes, So-dam Park especially shines through in her scenes as ‘Jessica’, while Woo-sik Choi, for me, is at his best in the epilogue section at the end of the film. Finally, Hye-jin Jang, much like the others gives a solid performance, with her moments to shine coming in one of the most intense scenes in the entire film, and while for the majority of the film she doesn’t have a lot to do, it is in these scenes where the tension ramps up that Jang shows she can hold her own among the talented cast.  Within the other family, the two actors of note are the Mother and Father of the Park family. While Yeo-jeong Cho is a lot more present in the film and script of the film, both her & Sun-kyun Lee give fantastic performances, playing the initial ambivalence and naivety well, before transforming their portrayals into thinly veiled disgust at their employees. This is especially great during the birthday party scene, where this comes to a head and we see fully and openly how these two feel about the Kim family. 

Alongside these fantastic performances from the whole cast, Parasite shows tremendous achievement through its technical elements too. One of the biggest examples of this being the production design of the two key locations of the film, this being the two houses. The film very purposefully lets the audience get to know the spatial geography of the houses, through the camerawork & scene locations. In doing this, Bong is carefully setting up the second act, where the tables are turned and the film starts to become tense and suspenseful, and a lot of this tension comes from our understanding of the locations and which characters inhabit them. In a similar way to how Hitchcock builds suspense by showing us more than the characters know, similarly Bong creates heightened tension by letting the audience see the events unfold before the characters, and the locations play a big part of that tension. We see this most clearly in the turning point of the film where the Kim’s are staying at the Park’s house while they’re away, and also during the birthday party sequence. Alongside the dynamic camerawork and tight script, it creates these wonderfully gripping sequences that keep the audience on the very edge of their seat the whole time. Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography amplifies this atmosphere and tension so well, perfectly matching the tone and ambience of the scene; with the first half of the film feeling very clashing with vibrant and colourful hues in the Park family house with the dullish colours of the Kim family household, but as the film progresses both locations start to exhibit darker, more shadowy tones, highlighting not only the corruption of the characters but also the darker themes of the film.

There’s no doubt that Parasite is one of the most talked about films in recent years, and easily the most talked about foreign language film within the English-speaking film circles. For me, this level of praise is absolutely deserved, every element of Parasite comes together to create a fantastic overall package that can only be described as a masterpiece. From the very opening shot, to the ending stinger, I was completely hooked the entire time. With amazingly put together sequences that kept me constantly tense and anxious, but with plenty of respite perfectly interspersed to keep a tight pacing running throughout the film. Films like this don’t come around too often, but it’s great to see this one getting the respect and praise it deserves.

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