Directed by Bong Joon-Ho
Written Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-Won
Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun and Jo Yeo-jeong
MPAA rating: R for language, some violence and sexual content
Running time: 2 hours and 12 minutes
by Ashley Jane Carruthers
“Dad, I don’t think of this as forgery or a crime.”
Lies pile up. Remember when you were a kid and your parents told you that even if you told ONE lie, it would snowball into a million billion lies? The same thing goes for pretending. I will admit that I previously held the title of reigning World Heavyweight Champion of Pretending. I mean it. Pretending became so natural for me that it was essentially what my day-to-day existence was. Even when I was *mostly* myself, the closest I had ever been to being true to myself, I was still pretending with the person I was the least pretend-y with. Therefore, all things considered, I believe I am highly qualified to say that the family we meet in the Cannes Palme d’Or winning film Parasite are serious virtuosos of pretending. Jesus, they’re good.
Parasite follows Kim Ki-taek (played by the always excellent Song Kang-ho) and his tight-knit family trying to get by in life in a very little apartment, with very little money and very little wifi. They each work temporary low paying jobs in order to earn enough money to buy beer and eat like college students, but their future is quite unsure. One day Kim’s son Ki-woo (my favorite character) gets word of a rich family, the Parks, in need of an English tutor for their daughter. Ki-woo doesn’t necessarily have the proper training for the job, but his sister Ki-jeong is extremely adept at photoshop and is eager to supply him with all the totally real and legit paperwork he needs to secure this gig. This singular act of pretending starts a chain reaction of events in which we watch Kim Ki-taek and his family, having grown extremely tired of their living conditions, figure out a way to make a change, in a most unorthodox manner.
As far as the plot of this film goes, that is all I’m going to say. Before I saw it, I denied myself from looking anything up about it and went in totally blind. I believe I was rewarded for that. While I did find myself sensing things that would happen before they did, there was no way I could tell you the ending by watching the beginning. I refuse to give too much away because a big part of the fun of this film is experiencing the way everything unfolds. And believe me - this movie is F-U-N. There are two main tones in this film. The first is that of a dark comedy. I was not expecting to laugh nearly as much as I did while watching it. I mean full on, out loud laughter. Then the second bit creeps up like a yearning ghost and things take a serious and thrilling turn. This tonal transition could not have been executed better. The whole movie is a tremendous balancing act, and it is accomplished with a high degree of skill.
Looking at this all in terms of actual filmmaking, it is outstanding. I have enjoyed everything that I personally have seen Bong Joon-ho direct. This, however, was masterful. It showcased his very strong sense of style with beautiful lighting and impeccable framing, with so many memorable shots in which there are two separate important actions going on within the frame at the same time, each jockeying for your attention. I live for that kind of thing! It reminded me of the work of Brian De Palma, a master of split screen, without the actual, well, split in the screen. The main set of the Park’s house was gorgeousssss. Like, I’m talking all-time dream movie house levels of love here. Can I move into this house? There is endless room for records, baskets, and the boy Da-song’s play room / art studio? Perfection. (Yes I want the child’s room, so what?)
As a very welcome accompaniment to the crisp and colorful visuals, the score was quite quirky and memorable and I absolutely loved it. I noticed one scene that had theremin in it, reminiscent of spooky sci-fi shows of the past. Theremin!! (Side note: I’m doing the music for the soon to be classic production PIZZAMAN, and you better believe there is theremin in it. Hearing it in a film of this calibre, I felt validated. Attention filmmakers, this gal has her finger on the pulse of the future of film scores - and it is theremin! You heard it here first.)
The acting is amazing, with every unique character being fully fleshed out, each having a distinct purpose and being a very important piece that adds to the story and film as a whole. I bought everyone in their roles, and I had so much fun watching how they all interacted. While I loved the characters, I didn’t necessarily feel emotionally attached to them. But honestly? I am such a soft-hearted person in real life that I really enjoyed just watching what happens to these people without being too sensitively invested myself. It was pure escapism, and I wasn’t the only one who loved it. This movie was a big hit at Cinéfest, where I saw it. As a reference, the crowd was mostly white retired folks, and they were all in. They laughed! They gasped! They clapped! They LOVED it. That is also important to note because while I cannot stop gushing at how much fun this film is, it also has a tremendous lot to say. It examines issues such as equality and class in a very smart and sobering manner that I think is essential for the world’s climate today.
Every single person who asked me what my first reaction was to Parasite got the same answer: It was WILD. I really don’t know a better way to describe it. I found it to be wildly original, wildly funny, wildly smart and, most of all, wildly entertaining. There was an exciting buzz as I left the theatre with everyone talking about it. To be entertained is one thing, but to escape and then be made to really think and discuss what it means afterward? This is why I love movies.