If you are at all interested in films, or the film industry, you would likely have heard of Parasite. The South Korean black comedy thriller film directed and written by Bong Joon-ho has been taking the world by storm over the past year, and on Sunday night, the film made record-breaking history by winning Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards, becoming the first foreign language film to do so. Not only that, but the film also took away Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, the latter of which was a huge surprise with many predicting Sam Mendes would take that honour.
There is much, much to praise about the film, but one of the main reasons has to be the fantastic editing by Joon-ho’s Okja collaborator, Yang Jin-mo, who unfortunately was snubbed by the Academy for his brilliant work. One of the best examples of this is the famous “peach scene”, which already feels like an iconic and famous piece of cinema.
The scene in question takes place around the half way mark of the film. At this point in the story, the poor and unemployed Kim family, a nuclear family of four, have all (the exception of the mother, Chung-sook) infiltrated their way into the rich and upper class Park family, and are now looking for a way to get Chung-sook a job in the household. And all within the space of one beautifully crafted and controlled montage (which apparently consisted of 60 different shots all within just over 5 minutes), we see the Kim family create a carefully-conducted plan to get the Park family’s housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) fired by creating a lie that she has tuberculosis, knowing that Park matriach, Yeon-gyo will likely fire her, and then Chung-sook can take her place.
It has been stated by many that Parasite is very much a film of two halves, and has been described by Joon-ho as almost two movies in one. The first movie, takes place in the first 50 minutes or so, plays out almost like a heist film. It has a slow-building ease and tension to it, as we get to know all of our heroes in the form of the Kim family – consisting of father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), daughter, Ki-jeong (Park so-dam) and mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin). In a very similar style to a lot of films in the heist genre, the director takes us through their woes, and we start to feel sorry for them and their impoverished and poor lifestyle.
This montage ultimately feels like a climax to the heist film part of the film – it is a climax of the first movie. It is the moment at the end of Ocean’s Eleven when George Clooney and co pull off their impressive heist – we see the Kim family all get high-paying, successful jobs, and become the higher class individuals that they have always dreamt of being. However, that is only the first movie, and as the film continues into the second act, it turns into a completely different movie. Around the time of a doorbell ring (which takes place at the exact halfway point in the film), the film completely changes genre to a heist film into a tense thriller movie, with even some elements of horror.
The montage in question, however, details the Kim family attempting to make it look like Chung-sook has tuberculosis by exploiting her allergy to peaches, or more importantly, her allergy to peach fuzz. The art of the montage is very important to the film as it creates a particular rhythm and pace for the film. Joon-ho creating a rhythm and pace for his films is not uncommon (his 2013 film, Snowpiercer is a prime example of this), and he does this so he can make his movie flow a lot better. Therefore, he can pull off his various tonal swifts with complete ease – the film is already a weird heist film/ thriller hybrid, but combines various other genres from comedy to horror to almost Shakespearian-like tragedy.
As the montage starts of we see a series of seeming unconnected shots, from Ki-jeong walking past Moon-gwang to hot sauce being put of pizza to Ki-woo removing fuzz from a peach. All of these moments are threaded together through a voice-over, and a beautiful piece of music called “The Belt of Faith”, but they still feel strange and unconnected. As we get into the latter parts of the montage, all of these shots come back, and are revisited. These images beautifully mirror images at the end, and it almost feels as those the montage is having a conversation with itself. The montage has a balletic and hypnotic nature to it, and this helps Joon-ho create the pace he wants for the film.
After the opening few shots of the montage, however, the film cuts to Ki-taek confining with Yeon-gyo that Moon-gwang might have tuberculosis (after taking a picture of her at the doctor’s office). In a beautiful piece of cross-cutting, it cuts between this conversation to the whole family practising the conversation at home. This piece of cross-cutting is so essential as it shows the audience how detailed the family’s plan is, and just how much they want this plan to succeed.
In another piece of beautiful cross-cutting, we see Chung-sook cleaning on the floor, and when we cut back to this scene, all the family are sitting on the floor and relaxing. This is a beautifully crafted piece of editing as we understand that the family have been rehearsing and practising for such a long time. This is also so essential for the film as we understand how hard-working and dedicated the family are to making this plan work.
A big influence to Parasite is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (one of Joon-ho’s favourite films), and even more influential is how in the 1960 classic, Hitchcock makes us align with characters who have done terrible things. And that is exactly what Joon-ho does throughout Parasite, and particularly in this montage – he makes us relate and almost admire this family for just how detailed, brilliant and well-rehearsed their plan is, despite just how awful and horrible it is.
As we get into the later part of the montage, the last piece of the plan (or “the icing on the cake” as Ki-jeong calls it) is for Ki-taek to frame Moon-gwang for coughing up blood. This part is also edited in a thrilling way as behind Ki-taek is Yeon-gyo, and he must operate this without her noticing. And then – he pulls it off, and the plan goes off without any hitches. In the same way as is often the case with said heist films, the family have pulled of their said heist, and we, as the audience, are there celebrating with them.
Another wonderful thing about this montage, is how well-threaded it is with it’s wonderful music. “The Belt of Faith” is a wonderful classic piece of music that brilliantly accompanies the scene. As the tension mounts and mounts, and the stakes get higher and higher, the music becomes more and more dramatic, and like the montage, reaches it’s climax. The use of music is very important in a scene like this as it relates to creating a certain rhythm and pace for the montage.
Ultimately, one of the biggest triumphs of the film overall is how accessible the film is, which is probably the reason why the film has done so well overseas and at awards ceremonies. There is much to praise about the film – the film is all at once, a brilliant satire on class conflict, a thrilling and subversive puzzle box piece of cinema and a complicated family drama, but it is also entertaining as hell. Joon-ho, is someone who understands genre (addressing monster movie tropes in The Host (2006), action movie tropes in Snowpiercer and murder mystery tropes in Memories of Murder (2003)), and he is brilliant at making sure that his films are always fun and entertaining.
The “peach scene” montage is a perfect illustration of this, as it keeps the plot moving forward, but does so in a pacey, vibrant, and ultimately very fun way. Just an absolutely stunning piece of cinema from beginning to end.