Director Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay Bong Joon-ho, Ha Jin-won
Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Jang Hye-jin, Jung Ji-so, Jung Hyun-joon, Lee Jung-eon, Park Myung-hoon
Parasite is one of the best cast, directed and uniquely written films of the year. It’s further evidence that Bong Joon-ho’s directoral brilliance. It’s also another shining example about the cinematic powerhouse that is South Korea.
The story revolves around a family living at the bottom of the social ladder in South Korea. Kim Ki-taek (Song) is the father, and he’s almost beyond pride. They leave the windows open in their basement apartment in order to benefit from the bug exterminator spraying the alley above their house. When things can’t get any worse, his son, Ki-woo (Choi) is gifted a symbolic stone as well an opportunity to teach English for a rich family.
As soon as he is hired to teach the daughter (Jung Ji-so), he manipulates the matriarch (Cho) into hiring his sister (Park) as an expert in art therapy for her son (Jung Hyun-joon). This leads to the firing of two other family workers – the driver and the maid. Those two spots are taken by Ki-taek and his wife Chung-sook.
The Park family they are working for does not realize that all of their new employees are related to one another. The Parks are also unaware that this is not the first time that they’ve been decieved.
The unraveling of the mystery is a remarkable stroke of storytelling. We don’t have to know what is going to happen, as Bong is a remarkable enough director to visually entertain to the degree the viewer does not wonder what will happen next. When it strikes, though, it the hits just keep on coming. The whole last act is one reaction after the next, with incredible imagery to shower the viewer in emotion that is almost a bonus given the acting.
The confidence in having such a great cast is that we don’t have to keep the camera on one or two actors in order to be entertained. This allows for more room for the story to flow naturally. There are only so many things that can happen when one has one actor to follow. When there are more than four, it’s harder to guess.
The story only lets the viewer down in one Fenimore Cooper gone wacky kind of way. The moment we need something obvious to screw everything up, it does so in as ridiculous a manner as possible. Once we move beyond that, things immediately resume being interesting and barely predictable.
The acting is superb throughout, with the family of Song, Jang, Choi and Park leading the way. Choi Yeo-gyo’s gullible rich wife is perhaps the best thing about the film. Her ability to go along with the variety of plotted actions without having her suspicions aroused is the key to the film. As soon as she overacts the part of the fool, the jig is up. Fortunately she toes the line so expertly, we don’t wonder how she could miss everything.
The cinematography reaches its high point near the end of the second act. The family travels home from the top of the hill through a rainstorm, only to find the waters rage the further down they travel. The rain acts as the revealer for the family and all of their plans. No matter how well they plan, the father Ki-taek posits, it doesn’t matter. They could have no plan and they’d still end up in the gutter. The reality paints a beautiful portrait of what happens in the final stretch.
The writing is remarkable. So well is the table set that the viewer discovers the use all of their senses when we hear the words spoken between those who have no idea there are other ears listening in. When they talk about the smell of the subway, the imagination blooms as we are filled with a rage emanating from sorrow.
The ultimate skill of a director of foreign language film is to have a story and visual palate so engaging that it helps translate even when you don’t look at the subtitles. Joon is so effective a storyteller, the desire to learn the language grows to the point where one can see the film without having to look around the text on the screen to the subtext within it.
See this film if you want to be moved by a mystery that makes one wonder of the symbolism when you see a stink bug on the car as they leave the screening. Joon is a once in a generation talent and this era of his homeland’s film industry is one of the best.
(****1/2 out of *****)