So, at the recent Academy Awards, against all the odds, ‘Parasite’, a black comedy/satire from South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, won 4 ‘Oscars’ including that of Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. That was extraordinary as no foreign language film had ever won the Best Picture ‘Oscar’ and it may be a landmark moment in film history. That said, I can recall that critics said a similar thing about ‘The Artist’ (2011) and that it would herald a renaissance of silent movies (we are still waiting almost a decade later).
Bong Joon-ho was probably previously best known for ‘The Host’ (2006) a ‘monster’ film that I missed but was viewed as ‘anti-American’ as it was about a monster created by the US Military dumping ‘Agent Yellow’ into a river which led to a disformed amphibian being seen who captures a daughter.
‘Parasite’, if you pardon the pun, is a completely different kind of fish. It tells the story of the Kim family who are struggling to survive in South Korea, living in a very rundown basement apartment, and off low paying jobs. An opportunity arises when the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) decides to pose as an English tutor to the son of a very wealthy Park family. Through a couple of acts of deceit, he gets accepted, and before long he has also installed his sister (Park So-dam) to be an Art Therapist, his father (Song Kang-ho) as a Chauffeur, and his mother (Jang Hye-jin) as Housekeeper/Cook- all through various acts of fraud.
As time develops this ‘family within a family’ get used to the luxuries of the lifestyle they have conned themselves into infiltrating, but a nasty surprise awaits them in the basement below….
‘Parasite’ is a good title for the film as it reflects both the poor family burrowing their way into the affluent household but it also describes the Park family as they rely on servants to administer to all their needs – washing up, cooking, tutoring, art appreciation et al. It is a kind of South Korean ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ as when anyone goes below, they encounter a life of struggle and relative degradation. Go upstairs and it is world of affluence.
It is a very funny film and is extremely well made although it erupts into gruesome violence later on which is at odds with the first 90 minutes or so of the movie. I am not convinced it is as great a piece of film as its Oscar win might suggest. Like ‘1917’, it is what you might call a ‘worthy’ film, as it is clearly loved by a number of critics, but I did not enjoy it as much as I expected.
It has a number of flaws in that it asks us to believe that such an affluent family as the Parks would readily take on as its workforce the Kim family purely based on fairly unsophisticated forged documents and the recommendation of people they hardly know. You do wonder how the Park family could be so successful with such naivety -but that may be Bong Joon-ho’s view of South Korean business and society?
The performances from a cast that to the majority of UK filmgoers would be unknowns, are splendid and they do involve you in a movie that is probably about 30 minutes too long. I particularly liked Song Kang-ho as the Kim family head and Cho Yeo -Jeong as Mrs Park also impresses.