Movie Review – Parasite (2019)
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This is the official submission from South Korea to the 92nd Academy Awards. It won the Palme d’Or at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival. It is the first, South Korean film to do so. It has made close to $100 million in the worldwide box office and it’s presumed to get at least one Oscar nomination. If it does get the presumptive nomination for Best International Feature, it will be the first film from South Korea to do so. Because writer-director Bong Joon-ho has been a celebrated filmmaker for some time and because this film is such a hit, he’s the leading contender to win said award, possibly becoming the first South Korean national up on the Oscar stage holding the gold.
In several ways, this film is comparable to the Japanese film, Shoplifters (2018), which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. It was about an impoverished family living in squalor who committed petty crimes. Those crimes stayed somewhat petty until it revealed grander crimes that happened off screen prior to the narrative’s beginning. Here, the petty crimes escalate, so that the grander crimes are seen and depicted on screen. Shoplifters played on themes of family, such as what makes a family and what makes one bond together. Here, Bong is more playing on themes of classism and bigotry.
This isn’t new for Bong. He’s played with themes of classism and bigotry before. This was in particular in his English-language, action film, Snowpiercer (2013). That film was about impoverished people living in squalor who have to fight their way to where wealthy people are in order to get what they have or in some way better their circumstances. This film does a bit of the same thing. Yet, this film doesn’t have the science-fiction element that Snowpiercer did.
Choi Woo-sik (Okja and Train to Busan) stars as Kim Ki-woo, a young man who looks as if he’s college-age. Yet, he’s not in college, probably because he and his family can’t afford it. Ki-woo and his family in fact have to steal internet from nearby neighbors. He lives with his sister, Kim Ki-jung and his parents in a crappy apartment that’s mostly underground. It looks like a basement that’s somehow being rented out. It’s old, dirty and it smells. It’s also filled with junk. Despite not being in college, Ki-woo is smart. Despite not being in college, he does have friends who are.
One night, a college friend named Min visits and tells Ki-woo that he’s going abroad to study. Min offers a tutoring job at the home of a wealthy family named Park. Specifically, Min tutors that family’s daughter. It’s similar to the setup for Native Son, which was recently adapted for HBO earlier this year. Ki-woo doesn’t think he’ll get the job because he doesn’t have proper credentials. He decides to fake his résumé and using his street smarts, he manages to charm his way through the job interview, eventually getting the job.
Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) stars as Kim Ki-taek, the father to Ki-woo. For some reason, he can’t or doesn’t have a better job that can provide for his family. He and his wife, Kim Chung-sook, played by Janng Hye-jin, bring in a meager income from making or at least folding pizza boxes. In Snowpiercer, it was easier to accept the impoverished conditions for the main characters due to the post-apocalyptic premise. Here, however, the film provides no answers as to why Ki-taek and his wife can’t or aren’t doing more than folding pizza boxes. There’s an early implication that Ki-taek is lazy, but that doesn’t seem to be the case because through the recommendation of his son, Ki-taek is able to get a job with the same Park family as a driver and assistant.
In fact, through lies and manipulations, the entire Kim family gets jobs working for the Park family. The Park family doesn’t know that all four of their new in-home employees are related. The Park family thinks it’s just coincidence. When the Kim family’s secret is discovered, the rest of the film becomes what they are willing to do to hold onto living in the lap of luxury.
Director Bong crafts some pretty thrilling sequences of the Kim family manipulating the Park family and even hiding things from them. Those sequences literally kept me on the edge of my seat. He unfurls what becomes a kind of class warfare, which brings out certain stereotypes about each class. The poor are seen as cockroaches or rats, strong but smelly, scurrying in the darkness. The rich are seen as weak and gullible, too pampered and privileged. Strangely, as the narrative plays out, the fight between the rich and the poor isn’t what ruins things. It’s the fight among the poor themselves. Yet, it might be emblematic of bigger issues that the poor are fighting among themselves for what turns out to be scraps from the rich.
Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content.
Running Time: 2 hr. and 12 mins.
In select cities, including Salisbury on Nov. 8.