Bong Joon-ho with his Oscar
Directed by Bong Joon-ho. Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun, Chang Hyae-jin. Language: Korean with English sub-titles. Length: 132 minutes. Rotten Tomatoes 99%
This South Korean black-comedy/thriller has just won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. It is the first non-English language film to claim the Best Picture award.
Kim Ki-taek and his wife, son and daughter live in a basement in poverty. All are unemployed and survive with badly paid casual work. This changes dramatically when the son, Ki-woo, poses as a highly educated tutor and gives private lessons to the daughter of a wealthy family, the Parks. Bit by bit, the wealthy Park family allows the down-and-out Kim family to infiltrate its life.
South Korean cinema is experiencing a moment of undoubted splendour and openness that has internationalized its cinema. Directors such as Hong Sang-soo (the “Korean Woody Allen”), Kogonada (Columbus), Park Chan-wook (Stoker) or Lee Chang-Dong (Poetry) now have world reputations.
Parasite’s director, Bong Joon-ho, is a symbol of his country’s arrival on the world stage. In in 2003 he directed Memories of Murder, which has been hailed as one of the best South Korean films ever made. Since then he has co-produced for an international market films as original as The Host (2006), Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017). Last year Parasite won the Palme d’Or in Cannes in a very crowded field, including Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar), Les Misérables (Ladj Ly) and A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick).
Parasite is a unique black comedy with a dizzying pace. Over more than two hours the plot twists and turns, piling complication upon complication, all spiced with the humour and intelligence of the dialogue. The cast is exceptional, from the imaginative young son to the cunning housekeeper who realises that her comfortable position of power is being threatened.
Rich and poor, the two families are united in a worrying deficit of ethics. Adults behave like unstable teenagers; the teenagers have the calculating and ruthless maturity of adults. What they share is a materialistic individualism that shuts the door to happiness and a serene family life. The diagnosis is hardly novel, but the film projects hope for the future.
It’s a very contemporary but universal story with a searing critique of post-modern thinking in a world dominated by Google.
So, Parasite is funny, disturbing (there are scenes of violence and sex) and intelligent – the final scene is magnificent.
In short, it is a masterpiece. Bong Joon-ho has scaled Olympus to sit with the most talented and influential filmmakers of his generation — Denis Villeneuve, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Alfonso Cuarón, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Paweł Pawlikowski, or Alejandro González Iñárritu.