UPDATE 10/02/2020 : Surprise, surprise… Parasite took home the Oscars for Best Picture(!), Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director.
My annual trip to the movies continues right on schedule. Come the holiday season, you’re (apparently) all too likely to find me in some poorly maintained and highly unergonomic theatre seat in the “hip” part of town watching a soon-to-be Oscar winner that probably shouldn’t win such an award but does anyways. It’s basically a tradition now, and goodness knows I love me some tradition.i
While my review of Parasite won’t attempt to match Jack’s lauding and laudable effort,ii I will leave a few notes here on Bong Joon-Ho Palme d’Or winner, for which I had high expectations, but let’s just start out with my personal bias, which is that I don’t care much for the “suspense” genre of filmmaking and this movie was no exception. Indeed, I wanted to leave the theatre for most of the second half of the film, set on edge were my teeth and braced for impact was my jaw, and yet I stayed, mostly because my date seemed to be enjoying herself well enough but also because I had nowhere better to be, such are the blessings and curses of the holiday season. Yet, in spite of it all, the ending of the film (if we can skip ahead a bit) was so poetic and just that even a couple hours after, as I sipped my XO cognac and tapped out this first draft, I was left with a perfectly pleasant taste in my mouth. Yes, there were a few more visceral scenes that will sizzled on the back burner of my mind for a couple of days yet, but not enough to lose sleep over, which isn’t always the case with this genre and I.
These priors being established, and a bit of flavour being hinted at, how about the rest of this sub-titled foreign film ? Since the trailer will give you a rough idea of what’s in store, let’s focus on the layers and subtexts to the plot, from which there was much clarity about the surprising depths of inequality between the two families depicted, the Parks (the “haves”) and the Kims (the “have-nots”). It turns out, to no one’s great surprise, that the wealthy are just like the rest of us, and so too are the poor, each in their own ways, but that they each have their dignities, which are quite distinct. To whit, the acting skills of both castes was commendable – the Kims with their honed con-artistry and the Parks with their less-than-self-effacing delusions of grandeuriii – and running like hidden and slightly corrosive streams beneath both castles, respect was always and everywhere present. Interestingly, the most respectful character in the film, the basement-dwelling-third-leg-of-the-stool Geun-se, was the also the most deranged. Is the message here that even respect can be taken too far ? That devotion and love can twist and gnarl our souls just as much as hate can ? Quite possibly. As Ki-woo pointed out a few times, to considerable laughs from the crowd and myself, it’s so metaphorical.
Speaking of which, another subtext was that failing to nip your problems in the bud comes with dire consequences. Specifically, had the Parks dealt swiftly and decisively with their subterranean nemeses at first contact, they would’ve avoided considerable bloodshed later on, so it seems that Joon-Ho is teaching us that a little pain now is better than a lot of pain later. Hard to argue with that.
There were still a few plot gaps that left me wanting, however, including the lack of security cameras within this $10-20 mn private residence,iv as well as the failure of the parasitic Untermenschen to even attempt to raise their stations with their new and supposedly generous salaries. While it’s not totally clear how much time passed between the first tutoring session and the ultimate collapse of the con, the Kim family never bought nicer clothes, newer cell phones, paid off any obvious loan sharks, or moved out of their less-than-desirable semi-basement suite. That Min never came back into the fold to compete for the young Park daughter’s affection with the Kim boy was also a missed opportunity, but at two hours and twelve minutes in runtime already, the film also couldn’t go on forever like some LoTR epic.
In the end, I’d hesitate to call Parasite “epic” in any meaningful way, but if you’re interested in expanding your horizons to include “foreign films,” it’s a palatable and provocatively sub-titled example of that “genre.” As a suspense film, it’s on the lighter side, even if it was still a bit heavy for me. So metaphorical…
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- 2017 was Shape of Water and 2018 was Free Solo, the latter of which actually deserved all of its accolades and more. ↩
- Archived. ↩
- Oh the little Park boy is the next Jean-Michel Basquiat is he ? ↩
- The International Style Modern House was apparently all CGI’d (archived), though you’d never know it. I mean, I knew it going in and I still couldn’t tell! The uncanny valley apparently doesn’t apply to set design, and this breakthrough may turn out to be this film’s most significant and lasting contributions. Wouldn’t that be something ? ↩