FILM DIRECTOR BONG Joon Ho is clearly the Quentin Tarantino of contemporary Korean film. His highly feted Parasite is a compelling piece of extremely violent film wrapped in the sweet-seeming but deeply sour saccharine of a tale within a tale within a tale. It leaves you quiveringly aware of the great machinations of metaphor and artifice, humour and horror, but without stooping into explanations and throwing all your preconceived expectations out the window. It’s an essay on the moneyed hierarchies of contemporary Korean society, which features a dystopian sense of catastrophe and consequence couched in plays of value and meaning, both extremely crude and potently sophisticated. Whatever it means to you, however, it takes no prisoners and is cast with a narrative clarity so hypnotisingly powerful that you won’t even be able to cross your legs nonchalantly as you watch: your focus will not allow your attention to digress for one second.
In Korean with English subtitles, it’s a must-see because it so rapidly was deemed the darling of critics the world over, directly after its international release earlier this year. It’s a must-see because as the credits roll and you sit there pondering what exactly you were just exposed to, and what all the fuss was about, you acknowledge that this was something kind of seismic in its disturbing importance.
It is here where we meet the Kim family: a father, a mother, a son and a daughter. They live in the heart of poor urban Korea, literally on the street level. None of them have jobs, but instead, they need to stay alive through sleight of hand, dishonesty and licks of chance. From folding pizza boxes to foxing an enormously wealthy and incredibly silly family into employing them all, the Kims enact a complicated tale which recalls traditional children’s rhymes such as I know an old lady who swallowed a fly, or The house that Jack built, which both build a series of facts in the tale on the coat-tails of the previous chapters.
The intrigue and the one-dimensional nature of the rich family being leeched upon is witty, but dangerously so; sex hangs like a pall in the air, as do other taboos, and an over-indulged nine-year-old with a current penchant for things of a Red Indian nature rules the roost. But then the bottom of the tale falls out, and as history turns to bite those trying to manipulate its gifts, the concept of a “landscape stone”, a war time bunker and Morse code by bleeding nose come into play. To say nothing of the re-use of a virulent allergic reaction to the hairs of a peach.
Not for one second are the premises of this tragic-comedy fuzzy but the actions and the articulations might mess with your head. This is the type of film that has the potency and momentum to radically shift what storytelling and film-making can or should be.
- Parasite is directed by Bong Joon Ho and features a cast headed by Dong-yong Lee, Hyo-shin Pak, Hyun-jun Jung, Hye-jin Jang, Ik-han Jung, JaeWook Park, Jeong-eun Lee, Jeong Esuz, Ji-hye Lee, Ji-so Jung, Joo-hyung Lee, Kang Echae, Kang-ho Song, Keun-rok Park, Myeong-hoon Park, Seo-joon Park, Seong-Bong Ahn, Sun-kyun Lee, Woo-sik Choi, So-dam Park and Yeo-jeong Jo. Written by Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han and produced by Young-hwan Jang, Bong Joon Jo, Sin-ae Kwak and Yang-kwon Moon, it features creative input by Jaeil Jung (music), Kyung-pyo Hong (cinematography), Jinmo Yang (editing), Ha-jun Leel (production design) and Se-yeon Choi (costumes). Release date, Ster Kinekor, Cinema Nouveau: October 10 2019.