Sometimes a film comes along that captures something crucial and powerful, resonating with the times in which it was made. Movies such as Taxi Driver, Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction spring to mind. Now, we have Parasite. Since winning the coveted Palme D’or earlier this year at Cannes film festival, over Quentin Tarantino’s superb Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the film has been on many people’s radar. The movie has grossed over $120 million worldwide, and over $20 million in the US alone, no small feat for a modestly budgeted Korean picture. Recently it was also selected in the Foreign Language Film category for the Oscars. As a huge Korean cinema fan I have been waiting impatiently for this one, and let me tell you, it is one of the most gripping, mind- expanding and wonderfully realised films made in the last decade.
Parasite concentrates on a poor, unemployed family, the Kims. Through nefarious, ingenious ways they infiltrate the household of upper class family, the Parks, looking to take over their wealth and status. Things are not all that they seem, however, and the cracks in both families moral character and fractured humanity begin to show, reflecting the growing insanity of modern society.
On the surface, the obvious class war between the families is the film’s heart, mirroring the growing disparity in wealth we are seeing all around us. What genius director Bong Joon-Ho manages to touch on is in fact so much more than this. The pervasiveness of technology over humanity is a huge theme. South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced nations on Earth, a place where they have walking lanes specifically for people who are on their phones.
A scene at the start of the film epitomises this, with the father of the Kim family (Song Kang Ho) saying grace in respect of stealing a wi-fi signal from a neighbour. One of the most beautiful shots in the film comes when one family member films an incident she sees outside of their window, two of the family throwing water over a man who is urinating. Shown from her point-of-view, the phone camera she is using fades out of view and we are left with just the image in slow motion. A beautiful way to communicate dichotomy of the wonders and dangers of technology. Instead of being in situations, we are watching them through our phones, but through this we can capture so much more of the world.
Bong uses technology as a plot device at numerous points in the movie, which saves the Kim family at tension-filled points in the narrative. The implication is clear: technology has made the world a much easier place to live in, but at the cost of real empathy and human connection. The intelligence at work here, and in so many other aspects of the film, beggars belief. The layers at work here are such that I’m sure there will be whole books written about them, in time.
Before watching the film, I read a lot about how it straddles, twists and transcends many different genres. Despite my love of hybrid genre films, like Scotland’s own horror/musical/comedy/action offering Anna and the Apocalypse, Parasite is a different beast. The movement between drama, thriller, horror and comedy is so fluid and beautifully constructed that I was constantly enraptured. It’s the kind of picture that even while you just sit back and watch in awe, you will still be completely drawn in and care for the characters. And most importantly; really, really want to know what will happen at the end.
In the first half of the film I found both families a little lacking in character development; a completely deliberate device as the second half reveals so much about every single member of both. It also helps that each actor gives such a strong performance, especially Song Kang-Ho, one of the handful of actors who has appeared in numerous Korean classics such as Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Bong’s The Host. Special mention goes to Park So-dam as the daughter of the Kim family, whose detached but comedic performance is masterful.
This is the kind of picture the end of the decade needs; one that is intelligent yet soulful, deep yet playful and humorous. Even with one scene near its end that stretches its credibility a little, Parasite deserves to be named as one of the best of the decade. It’s a film that should speak to every single one of us, acting as a warning that we must turn around our ego-led narcissistic ways or risk a growing insanity; or possibly, extinction.
Parasite is out on general cinema release from 7th February.