Synopsis: A poor family working for a wealthy family in South Korea try to keep their plans from spinning out of control.
I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this; but it has. I have to review Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. It recently won big at the 2020 Academy Awards; Best Picture, Best International Feature Film, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Once in awhile along comes a film that is exceedingly well-executed, but leaves you cold. Parasite never loses its nerve in the story it’s telling and the ensemble cast is superlative, but some scenes in the last half hour repelled me. After the film was over, I talked to a few people on the way out of the theater and they all found the movie brilliant. They didn’t seem disturbed in the least which made me feel like I was in some horror movie where everyone was telling you that eating brains or admiring the Kardashians was normal. I rushed out of the theater and into the sunlight.
From my reaction to Parasite you might be under the impression that the movie is about an actual parasite that plagues the human population. But, no, it’s about classism and the ill effects of capitalism. I’m not a Royalist or venture capitalist, so criticism of inequities don’t alarm me.
I went to see Parasite when it first came out, so knew nothing about it. I was, however, familiar with Bong’s work. Snowpiercer was about classism too. It is set in a dystopian future (is there any other kind of future?) on a train that goes on & on through a polar landscape. Chris Evans stars as an influencer in the lower ranks and scary Tilda Swinton is a cruel elitist. I found it more interesting than engaging, but Okja was quite moving. A girl attempts to save a darling beast, Okja –who looks like a cross between a hippo and a pig. It also features the always scary Tilda Swinton. I think I may have been lulled into complacency while watching Parasite because it is happily free of Tilda Swinton.
Parasite starts out in an ordinary fashion… We are introduced to the Kim family which consists of a middle-aged couple and their early twenties-aged son and daughter. They are working poor and live in a basement apartment in Seoul, South Korea. They scramble to make ends meet with low-paying service sector jobs. Soon, they’ll grift their way into household positions with a wealthy family, the Parks. The Parks are an attractive couple with a daughter in her early teens and an elementary school-aged boy.
While the Kims scheme to eliminate any employment competition and keep the Parks’ large disposal income going to them, there turn out to be things that they can’t control; like the sexual interests of the rich teen and the hyperactivity of her younger brother. Did someone see a ghost? Do the wealthy couple have their own secrets?
So far, so good. But then, the movie revealed its horror movie self. You see, when Bong Joon Ho’s story pieces click into space, he was leading us someplace very dark indeed. I thought it was a cerebral film with a sly sense of humor. And it is. But its crescendo is…how shall I say… something that rhymes with floodfath and is red and watery. But I have to say that any violence is not gratuitous. Still disturbing.
Parasite has a certain dark poetry to its finish that I appreciated. And its incisive commentary on socioeconomic class warfare and the concomitant human wreckage provide lots of material for film buffs who like to worry about humanity. Lots of us, I’m sure.
So, if you haven’t seen Parasite yet, prepare yourself for a horror film. Maybe some pre-movie shadow boxing to toughen up. Fortunately, you won’t need anything too hardcore like actually boxing someone. After all, Mr. Bong spared us the truly terrifying Tilda Swinton this time around.