KSQD’s Film Gang has been remiss in not yet reviewing one of the most acclaimed films of 2019, the South Korean dark comedy, Parasite, written, produced and directed by Bong Joon-ho. Hopefully this review will not only serve as a corrective but will inspire foreign-language-adverse moviegoers to give it a chance. There’s still time to enjoy it with an audience because, despite opening back in October, Parasite is continuing its long run at The Nickelodeon Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz. As Bong Joon-ho said, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Parasite illustrates how wealth disparity divides us, dulls our empathy, and provokes self-serving behavior in an allegory about two families: the impoverished and struggling yet tightly knit Kims, and the rich, self-indulgent Parks. The Kims are a family of four – a husband, wife and two young-adult children – who live together shoulder to shoulder in a basement dwelling, barely subsisting on odd jobs. Keeping their heads above water becomes literalized when rains flood their neighborhood. The Parks are essentially an across-the-board younger version of the Kim family, but clearly less close, living in an ultramodern house with an interior so spacious they rarely share the same room together. Their property is insulated from the rest of the world by high fences and a heavy metal gate that clangs shut like a prison door.
The first half of the film focuses on how the Kims insinuate themselves, one by one, into the employ of the Park’s household using bogus credentials and increasingly devious and elaborate machinations, while concealing the fact that they know each other, let alone that they’re related. The remainder of the film explores the unintended consequences of their actions, which culminate in a domino effect that triggers one tragedy after another.
Going into further detail would be a great disservice to anyone who has yet to see the film, so let me fire off a few intentionally vague superlatives: Parasite is brilliantly crafted, always compelling, often suspenseful, occasionally shocking, frequently funny and throws more curve balls then an MLB pitcher. The cast is as uniformly outstanding as the story and direction, as evidenced by its win of Best Performance by a Cast awarded by the Screen Actors Guild, triumphing over formidable ensembles in Jojo Rabbit, The Irishman, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Parasite also won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director. Those well-deserved accomplishments, among many others, are all history-making firsts for a South Korean film.
Future film historians are going to have a field day looking back at the cinema of 2019 when a record number of high-profile movies grappled with the ever-increasing divide between the rich and poor. Radically different films such as Ready or Not, Knives Out, Us and Joker, spanning horror, comedy, and drama, have all expressed the same social criticism. Parasite is perhaps the most pointed, explicitly showing how economic inequality brings out the worst in everyone, rich and poor alike.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski