When the son of a destitute family is given an opportunity to tutor a rich girl under false pretences, he and his family scheme to insinuate themselves into the wealthy household.
What remains to be said about Parasite that hasn’t already been said?
“The success that Parasite had is unprecedented”
The praise for Bong Joon-ho’s latest film has been almost unanimous – which is surprising, but pleasantly so. Whilst having directed films in Korean for years, Bong only really garnered attention in the Western mainstream consciousness with his 2013 film Snowpiercer, which largely plays out in the English language. The success that Parasite had is unprecedented, becoming the first non-Anglophone film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Given how Bong has stated his belief that the Oscars were really a ‘very local’ affair, this win perhaps indicates a movement beyond Americentrism in their celebration of film. More internationally, Parasite also collected the Palme d’Or at Cannes – the first South Korean film to do so.
The success of Parasite also seems surprising given its contentious subject matter; it functions largely as a parable critiquing the cruelty of capitalism. Whilst it can rankle somewhat, watching wealthy celebrities applaud its many victories, one must concede it is wonderful such a film is gaining recognition. When union-busting billionaire oligarchs like Elon Musk praise it however, one wonders if the point has flown over a few heads.
“The film, whilst often poignant and cutting in its critique, never comes across as overly didactic”
This is perhaps understandable. The film, whilst often poignant and cutting in its critique, never comes across as overly didactic. Whilst the social commentary is essential for the film’s existence, it never stands in the way of it being an incredibly entertaining watch.
Whilst the film is so thematically rich that any discussion of it can feel weighty, it cannot be overstated how funny it can be. The first half is especially thrilling in the way it’s structured almost as a comic heist-film, as the Kim family overcome hurdles to try to insert themselves into the Park household. To reveal too much of the plot would be to spoil it, but Bong’s skill at nimbly shifting from tone to tone as the film progresses is truly admirable.
“The first half is especially thrilling in the way it’s structured almost as a comic heist-film”
A lot of the tonal shifts are controlled by the performances of the actors. Much of the giddy enthusiasm of the early film is created by the aspirational Kim children, played by Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam. The Kim parents feel very convincing as likeable people who are caught in dire circumstances and who want a better life for their children than they themselves had.
Song Kang-ho is especially magnetic as the father of the family, and he comes to inject real pathos into the film as it unfolds. Lee Sun-kyun, meanwhile, portrays the wealthy Park patriarch as just the right degree of smug whilst Cho Yeo-jeong captures a real degree of fragile pleasantness as his wife. Special praise should go to Lee Jung-eun as the housekeeper who predates the Park family’s time in the house, and who proves a great obstacle to the Kims’ scheme.
“He [Bong] situates his protagonists as being plucky, intelligent and resourceful”
In terms of cinematography and set design, the film is impeccably constructed. Beginning in the basement flat of the Kim family (often subject to unplanned fumigation by street cleaners, or offering a view of urinating drunks) Bong’s direction invites the viewer to truly consider the plight that the unfortunate live in. As we watch the Kims scurry across their cramped domicile to try and find an accessible Wi-Fi signal, or all sitting on the floor to industriously construct pizza boxes for meagre earnings, Bong visually disrupts the notion of the ‘undeserving poor’. He situates his protagonists as being plucky, intelligent and resourceful – but trapped in a system wherein they cannot advance through legitimate means.
By the time we arrive at the lavish and beautiful house of the Parks, such a large space by contrast seems utterly grotesque for the small number of people living there. This is only one example of how effectively Bong can make his points through only visuals but coupled with the sharp script, he has managed to create a truly special film.
“Parasite functions as both a thoroughly entertaining piece of cinema and as a damning indictment of international socio-economic power structures”
Visually stunning, at points deeply funny and profoundly sad, Parasite functions as both a thoroughly entertaining piece of cinema and as a damning indictment of international socio-economic power structures. Go see it while you can.
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