It seems like every year there is a movie that comes out of nowhere to become one of – if not, the – most talked about movies of the year. Over the past few years, we have films like Roma (2018), Get Out (2017) and Moonlight (2016) that have fit that bill, and now, we have Parasite. The film has been taking the world by storm in the past year, not only winning awards left, right and centre, but also becoming a huge critical and audience favourite at the same time (gaining 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and becoming the highest rated film ever on the film social media site, Letterboxd). And, on Sunday night, the film made history by becoming the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and also took home 3 other Oscars, including Best Director.
The South Korean film written and directed by the maverick auteur, Bong Joon-ho (director of the brilliant Mother (2009) and Memories of Murder (2003)), the film is centred on the Kim family, a nuclear family of four, who are all unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. When the son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) gets a recommendation to tutor a young girl of the rick Park family, he lies about he credentials and gets the job. Soon enough, all of the other Kim family members infiltrate their way into the Park household through various different ways. There is much, much more to the film, but I don’t want to say anymore as anything else would just ruin it. Thankfully, unlike another Oscar favourite, 1917, the trailers for this film don’t spoil anything as this is a movie that is best experienced completely cold.
Going into watching this film, it’s very easy to say that this film completely lives up to the hype. It is just about as brilliant as everyone says it is – maybe even more so. It’s very rare that you leave a film without pretty much any flaws or complaints, in which the filmmaker never once puts a foot wrong. It has happened 3 times recently – first with Booksmart in last May, then with Knives Out in November, and now, with Parasite. Even some of the year’s most acclaimed films (like 1917 or The Irishman) are slightly flawed in some aspect. But, it never happens with Parasite – it is pretty much note-perfect film from beginning to end.
It’s always thrilling to see a filmmaker at the very top of his craft, and here, Joon-ho is at his very best. One of the most brilliant things about all of his films (from Memories of Murder (2003) to The Host (2006) to Snowpiercer (2013)) is how he plays with genre and tone. At the very start, Parasite begins life as a witty comedy, that oddly enough, dips into a heist film, as we see the Kim family ultimately pay a large con game to get themselves jobs in the Park household.
Then, all of a sudden, the film completely shifts. Very much in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (one of Joon-ho’s favourite films), Joon-ho plays the audience into thinking you are watching one type of film, and then shows the audience the real film that has been lying underneath the surface. I won’t say much about what happens, but I will say that after a particular doorbell ring (which takes place exactly half way into the film), in which the film re-positions itself from a comedy/heist film to a full-blown thriller, and sometimes even delving into horror, and then it’s large act, turns into an almost Shakespearean-like tragedy.
The film is able to pull off a lot of it’s tonal swifts and genre changes because the film has some really great film-making. The film is really thrillingly edited (done by Joon-ho’s Okja (2017) collaborator, Yang Jin-mo), there is a great montage about half way through, which is beautifully crafted and controlled. The montage, in question, gives the audience a lot of information and a lot happens, but it also moves the plot along in a series of concise shots. Joon-ho is a filmmaker who is obsessed with rhythm and pace, and he knows that in order to make his films’ big tonal swifts and genre changes to work he must make his films pacey and even a little bit fun, and he does this brilliantly in Parasite. The film’s music also largely contributes to giving the film a pace. The music – largely made up of classic music – is very grand and orchestral. It largely adds to the building suspense and tension, and ultimately gives the film a real rhythm and pace.
Also, Joon-ho brilliantly never wastes time in this film, and that is mainly because he is economic and sparring with his camera shots. There are many times during the film, where he doesn’t holds the audience’s hand through the narrative, and trusts that the audience will understand. In one of the film’s most iconic moments, the two Kim children, Ki-woo and Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) recount a mnemonic device that they have created to remember information – the song is brought up and never mentioned again, and Joon-ho trusts that we can just understand what it means and how important it is. It is so refreshing to see a film in which there is absolutely no filler, and every single shot has a relevance and importance, and that’s exactly what Parasite does.
The cinematography and the way the camera is used is also really beautiful here, including some really great gliding camera movements. The film has a real polish and sheen to it’s cinematography, and Joon-ho really makes a lot of story-telling very visual. It is very important for a film like this as it turns what could of felt like a small, self-contained stage play (which as Joon-ho states, it did begin life as) into a proper, cinematic movie.
What’s also great about the movie is how the film combines visual story-telling with a cracking (and now Oscar-winning) script. Co-written by Joon-ho and Hin Jin-won, the dialogue is very brisk and to the point, and like the film-making, does not waste time with unnecessary or exposition-heavy dialogue. The script also does a brilliant job at managing characters and all their individual arcs. For a film that has essentially 10 main characters (apart from the Park and Kim families, we are also introduced to the housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) and her husband (Park Myung-hoon)), each character feels incredibly fleshed-out and interesting. It almost feels as though the film could be re-told from the perspective of any of the other characters, and that’s exactly what you want from a film with a sprawling cast of characters. The editing also does a brilliant job at balancing all these character arcs. There is a sequence at the end of the film where all the story-lines converge in one big, bloody climax, and in this sequence, you can tell exactly where each character is and what their motivations are.
The film, like a lot of Joon-ho’s films, especially Snowpiercer and Okja, has some brilliant social satire. A lot Snowpiercer, the film is a brilliant satire about the differences between rich and poor and it raises some very interesting questions about whether we can truly escape our social status. What’s really brilliant about how the central Kim family are written, is that although, they lie and cheat their way to the top, they actually do fit into this upper class world – they are smart, intelligent and actually, quite brilliant sometimes. The film does the same thing that a movie like Get Out does recently, in which the film combines real, popcorn entertainment with some biting social satire about the state of the world at the moment.
The production design for the film is also really quite perfect. Taking place primarily in the Park household, the house is rich, lush and beautiful and almost feels like a Bond villain’s lair. But, the house also – very much like the film itself, in fact – keeps reveals things about itself and there are hidden places in the house which are very important to the narrative.
Ultimately, Parasite is really a perfect movie. It’s a movie that never puts a foot wrong, and never ever, goes down a wrong path. The film could almost feel like a stage play with it’s brilliant dialogue, characters and social satire, but it is also beautifully cinematic, with some great visual story-telling. This year, the Academy have really got it right, as they actually have awarded the Best Picture of the last year. The film is everything everyone says it is and more – it is amazing, fantastic, strange, bonkers, completely note-perfect and if you venture out to see it, it will probably be one of the best films you’ll ever see in your life.