Everything you have heard about Parasite is true! The film was the latest from legendary South Korean filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho, and took the world by storm earlier this year. Amongst much critical and audience acclaim and box office success, the film made history by becoming the first foreign language film to win Best Picture, and also won 3 other Oscars, including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. The film has all the markings of a modern classic all over it, and is a real masterpiece of cinema. Here, I will take you through 8 things that every filmmaker can learn from the film.
(The following has big spoilers about the film. So, if you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately)
Make sure that if you do a twist halfway through, that before and after the twist are both interesting
Much has written about the fact that Parasite is a film of two halves. In fact the film is almost two separate, completely different films in one. Joon-ho has stated that he started off the script as a film all about a family, that all con and cheat their way into getting jobs into a luxurious, upper class house. However, it wasn’t until later in which Joon-ho came up with the second half, which almost feels like it comes from a different film. Normally, among critic’s circles, this is often used a criticism for certain films (“the end didn’t make sense, and felt like it was from a completely different film”), but with Parasite, the result is most definitely, not uneven.
One of the reasons for this is because both halves (or both of these two separate films) are both, in a standalone way, great films. Certain films that try to be two different films blended into one can fail for one of two reasons. Firstly, their opening can be too slow, boring or just plainly, too ordinary, because the filmmakers know that they have a big twist coming up that will grab the audience’s attention. The result of this is that the film will most likely lose it’s tension as the audience will have guessed that there is a twist coming up (even if they haven’t guessed the twist itself).
Secondly, the second half will not be as good. We have all watched numerous films, where we all say “it started of great, but lost it’s way towards the end”. However, what Parasite does so brilliantly is that it’s, well, brilliant, for all of it’s run-time. The second half is just as good – maybe even better – than the first, and tops everything that we’re just seen. The biggest compliment about Parasite is that it ranks up there with Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, Psycho for both being films that are completely successful in pulling this feat off, where numerous films have failed.
But you can still have your big moment where you reveal the twist
Parasite is not the first film to pull off this feat, in fact, there are many films that turns into a completely different film halfway through. If you look at the films of Jordan Peele and Edgar Wright, like Get Out (2017) or Hot Fuzz (2007), both of these films are genre-blending rides that starts off life in one genre, and by the end, feels like you are watching a complete different film. However, with both of these films, it is gradual change that happens slowly over the course of the run-time. And that is also the truth with Parasite. However, what is so revolutionary about Parasite is that, while doing this, it still has the big “Oh My God” moment, where we Joon-ho makes us realise that the film is changing in front of our eyes.
The moment in question comes when Moon-gwang arrives at the Park house, and descends into the secret basement under the house. Here, it is revealed that she has been hiding her husband there for 4 years, which leads into the second half of the film. In a brilliant panning shot as the camera goes through the dirty and grubby walls of the basement (in contrast to the posh and beautiful ways of actual house), Joon-ho is directly telling us that we are going to embark on a different film, and one that is a lot darker and stranger.
How to deal with Exposition
Parasite is a masterpiece of many things, but one thing, that it is particularly a masterclass in, is screenwriting. One of it’s real feats of it’s script is how it deals with exposition. Joon-ho and his writing partner, Han Jin-won deal are really great at being quite flippant with exposition, and not labouring over it, and just trusting that the audience will understand and take in this information.
Think about the famous “Jessica. Only Child. Chicago. Illinois.” song that Ki-woo (“Kevin”) and Ki-jung (“Jessica”) sing to each other, just before Jessica goes for an interview in the Park household. The song they’ve used is an mnemonic device, that allows them to remember a lot of information in memorable way. This is a condensed way telling the audience that the two of them have been arranging a backstory for Ki-jung, and have been doing it for a while.
Not does the script deal with exposition well, but it makes it straight-up entertaining. Much has been discussed about the already iconic peach scene, and this is a perfect capsule of this. The scene is a jab-packed montage, that is chock full of information that moves the plot along. Not only does this montage get through a lot of information quickly and efficiently, but does it in a punchy, pacey, fun, and most importantly, entertaining way.
Always give a reason to like every character
Another wonderful part about Parasite’s script is that EVERY lead character is somewhat unlikable and likable all at once. They are all simultaneously hard to root for and easy to root for at the same time. If you think about it, there are no real villains in the film – every character is simultaneously a hero and a villain.
The central family – Ki-taek, Chung-sook, Ki-woo, Ki-jung – are people who we all root for at first. They are down on their luck, they are all unemployed, and all they really have are each other. But, what is very sympathetic about them is that they do actually deserve more – they are all very smart, crafty and intelligent, and in Ki-jung’s case, supremely talented. Even, when they gets their jobs in morally dubious ways (like lying about their job experience, and getting two people fired), we still align ourselves with them, not because they are getting jobs they want, but getting jobs that they deserve.
Not only this, but all the secondary characters apply to this. The rich Park family, Dong-ik and Yeon-gyo do nothing actually wrong during the film – unlike, the Kims, they don’t con or lie their way into getting things – but they are still very privileged and entitled. Moon-gwang and Geun-sae are also complex – yes, Moon-gwang uses her bosses’s house to hide her husband, but his life was also in danger from threatening gangsters.
The reason why Parasite is so good is because all the characters are so complex, rich and beautifully drawn. We are given a reason to like and dislike about every character, and this just makes Parasite all the more richer, deeper cinematic experience.
But, still remember, to keep your storytelling visual
For all of the smart writing, and twists and turns that the movie offers us, what’s wonderful about Parasite is that it’s still a very visual movie. The film may be a marvel of screenwriting, but it is also a marvel of direction and cinematography. There are so much memorable and vivid images that stick out to the viewer long after the film has ended.
Think about the shot of Ki-jung holding a peach and blowing on it; or the long, panning shot of Chung-sook discovering the secret basement; or the shot of Geun-sae looking up the stairs, and scaring Da-song, or the slow-motion shots in the peach montage. With a mixture of the direction by Joon-ho and cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo, Parasite tells a lot of it’s story in a very visually striking way.
Writer-director, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) once said that if you want to watch some of your favourite movies in the right way, then you should watch them with the sound off, and then you will understand visual story-telling. This is something that could definitely be said of Parasite, and this could ultimately be the reason why the film has received such broad, international appeal.
Don’t be afraid to give your audience a break now and then.
For the majority of it’s run-time, Parasite is so weird, strange, and brilliant, that’s it’s almost hard to take. From about the peach scene to the aftermath of the twist, the film almost plays out like an assault – so much happens, the plot is so complicated and the film is trying to do so much, that it could be quite hard for the viewer to take everything in. But, then Bong Joon-ho takes a break.
If someone was going to ask me when exactly I realised how brilliant Parasite was, I would say the flood scene. This scene takes place after the Kims have escapes the Park household, and they discover that their home, and all of the neighbourhood surrounding it, are destroyed by a devastating flood. This sequence is of a different pace of the rest of the film – it is quite slow, melancholic and very emotional.
In this sequence, that is still essential and necessary to the overall plot, it gives the audience a break, and ultimately a chance for them to take it all in. Joon-ho does this throughout the rest of the film – at the beginning, it starts off as quite slow, and quietly builds the tension, and at the end, after the big climax of the movie, the film gives us a quiet epilogue that cools down the audience after a really tense climax.
This is an effect that shows us that Joon-ho has really got his finger on the pulse of what his audience must be feeling, and this is a very important thing for every filmmaker to remember when making a film.
With Parasite, Bong Joon-ho has attempted to do so much with one movie. The film is attempting to do so many genres, from drama, comedy, thriller, black comedy, horror, crime drama, heist film, ghost story, social satire, family drama, and so many more. The film is also about so many things – all at once it is a story of the upstairs/downstairs, poor/rich divide; young people trying to make a life for themselves; a father feeling like he is not providing enough for his family; a son dealing with trauma, and the effect it has on his family, amongst so much more.
Yes, Joon-ho has always been an ambitious filmmaker. His last film before Parasite, Okja was a satire about animal cruelty and corporate greed that was oddly funny, experimental and very strange. Before that, he was often trying to do one genre, and skewer and subvert it slightly, like the monster movie (The Host), the police procedural (Memories of Murder) and the science fiction action movie (Snowpiercer).
Something that is often said by film critics, is that they would prefer for a film to aim for the stars and fail, than a film being mediocre in it’s ambition and execution. And, this is exactly the case with Joon-ho’s films – sometimes the results are uneven (like Okja), and sometimes, the results are utterly heavenly (like Parasite), but we’re always got to admire his huge balls and ambition.
But, remember – you can achieve so much with so little
Think about all the things that Parasite has achieved – it became the highest-grossing South Korean film of all time; it has received universal acclaim from film critics, including an almost-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes; it became the highest-rated film on the film reviewing social media site, Letterboxd; it won the most awards in this year’s Oscar ceremony, and became the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar.
And, really when you think about it – it has pretty much come from nothing. The film cost the equivalent of 11 million to make (in comparison to Joon-ho’s last film, Okja, which had a whooping budget of 50 million), and it’s not really that much of an extravagant production. In fact for the most part, the film almost plays out like stage play – it has 8 main characters (along with 4 other named characters), and is pretty much just set in 2 locations.
It’s also just a random foreign language film from a random country (South Korea), and then the film, went on to do so well critically and commercially. This film, along with another one of my favourite films from last year, Knives Out, is a living example that all you need to make your film a success, is for it to be of absolute brilliant quality. It should also be a shining example of how, any filmmaker, from any country and working in any genre, can achieve so much if they are really talented.
The film should be taught in film school, as it is an achievement in everything – film-making, screenwriting, production design, cinematography, acting, etc. It is a film that should be looked at for inspiration for any aspiring filmmaker, or any screenwriter, or any-one wanting to work in film industry or, hell, any working in a creative field in general.