2020 saw The Oscar for Best Picture was given, for the first time in history, to a foreign film, and that film was Parasite; written and directed by Bong Joon Ho, who would leave the ceremony with both the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay awards in his hands, as well as the evening’s flagship prize. Parasite is a Korean film which follows the story of a poor family that cons a rich family into employing every single member of their family, and the dangerous circumstances that arise from that situation. The film stars Kang-ho Song, Sun-Kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo, and Woo-sik Choi among others. This review contains spoilers for the film. Please don’t read beyond this if you haven’t seen the film, it really is worth experiencing for yourself.
I was not entirely sure what to expect from Parasite. My experience with foreign films has tended to take up residence on one of the two qualitative extremes. Considering that I was watching it a few days after it won Best Picture, out of a pretty stand-out field of competition, with only its reputation as a Korean class-commentary, I was a little sceptical. Maybe even a little aversive, it’s hard to say. Either way, my scepticism and/or disinclination was totally and utterly blown sky-high out of the water by one of the most emotionally topsy-turvy films I’ve ever seen; introducing itself as amusing and leaving its audience gasping for breath.
Amusing is definitely the word to describe the first half or so of this movie, which pertains, almost exclusively, to the variety of skulduggery and subterfuge that the Kims employ to slowly (but not that slowly) sneak their way into the lives of the Park household. It starts off just kind of funny, but, by the end of it, it’s downright hilarious. Some of the crap they pull to oust and replace the incumbent staff is insane, crossing the border of outright cruelty a couple of times. The way they cross that line makes you a little uncomfortable at that halfway point, there’s a serious moral ambiguity to the situation in spite of their very clearly displayed lack of prosperity in their own circumstances (another facet that is portrayed in a very compelling way). That depiction, as well as the character endearment that comes from the comedy, is what keeps you from rooting against the Kim’s, but the discomfort is definitely seeded and is exploited as deep as it possibly could have been by what follows.
I maintain that they were insane, absolutely bonkers, to try to stay the night at the Park’s house in the first place. There was an element of predictability to it all, not that that wasn’t entirely the point but it was infuriating all the same. It was when the doorbell rang, and it was not the Parks at the door, that shit started to go down. The film took on a horror/thriller tone from that point, and it was unsettling as hell. It becomes difficult, here, to understand the differences between a director’s influence vs. the actors. Obviously the walk down the tunnel and all its goose-bumps were Ho’s prerogative, but if the guy playing the caretaker’s husband, Myeong-hoon Park, hadn’t been as brilliant as he was, we might’ve been seeing a different film. Whatever the source, the film takes a turn, and it’s nail-bitingly crazy. The suspense of the whole escape sequence was incredible. I suspect the stakes feel as high as they do because of the situation more than the actual character development. That’s a reality throughout the film, you never really commit to any of them so much as you commit to their family. Whether that’s a weakness or a strength ends up being a pointless debate, the end result is your hair standing up on end for at least a straight hour nearing the end of the film.
It’s after the whole escape sequence that the emotional sophistication rams hard. The flood is painful, visceral to watch and its aftermath equally so. Up until that point you’ve felt a lot from this film, but the flood was what made it all saddening, bringing the only emotion we hadn’t yet seen and bringing it hard. It served as a reminder of the fact that this film, above and beyond anything else, is a film about class: the high and the low. Seeing the difference in material effect of the flood on the two families was a little hard to watch to, especially coming from a place of privilege myself. From that point, your heart was in your hands. The horribly dark twist was most definitely seen coming, and yet nothing really prepared for it. It’s hard to really say more than that. The last fifteen minutes of the film are weightless. At least I felt that way. Weightless. Like everything was happening in slow-motion, the dread of what was coming weighing what was happening on screen down. The visuals of the climax of this film are crafted as if out of pure gold, every moment landing perfectly on-beat. I was a little surprised to see that Kevin survived, I had my money on none of the Kims making it out of that house. I appreciated the fact that they never disclosed, what happened to the Parks afterwards, the ones that survived at any rate. It feels right that I don’t know. As for Kevin’s eventual dream sequence, I interpreted it as fantasy, though I’ve heard differently from others. I’m not clear on the value of the morse-code message; why Mr. Kim would’ve sent it out every night makes exactly as much sense as Kevin returning to look at the house. It adds to the heartbreak, however, and for that it contributes to an ending that left its audience needing a minute to re-gather themselves. This was a brilliant, if altogether internally dividing, film.
Maybe it was my initial scepticism that drove deeper my appreciation for all that this film was. A pulsating, energetic, and suspenseful storyline, emotional stimulation, and a bedrock of acute social commentary made this film an undisputed conqueror among 2019s films. I neglected to mention above, but a striking aspect of the screenplay was the placement and usage of certain motifs. The fatal rock that began and ended it all, Da-song’s birthdays, and what would later become the ‘poor person smell’, which would drive Mr. Kim to drive a knife into Mr. Park’s heart, are all used in their ways with a not-so-subtlety that strikes hard. Was the way the smell was used a little out of place in the last sequence? Yes, it probably was, but it did contribute to the unreality of it all so that bit of slight laziness was forgiven. All in all, Parasite was a wholly unexpected, hilariously funny, and devastatingly heart-breaking film, which was absolutely deserving of every accolade it picked up at the Oscars. May it not be forgotten any time soon.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 92/100 Aryamaan’s Score –