The 2019 Oscars saw Parasite take home four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature, after narrowly missing out on the awards for Best Film Editing and Best Production Design. In a “word of pleading” to journalists and critics, director Bong Joon-Ho urged them to “refrain as much as possible from revealing how the story unfolds”. I’m not exactly a journalist or a critic, but I guess I’ll give this “refrain as much as possible” malarkey a go.
The kind of social commentary attempted in films like Us and Joker, Parasite accomplishes effortlessly. Parasite is a film about class dynamics, about the unequal effects of climate change, and about wealth disparity – but do not be mistaken, Parasite is a very funny film. For jokes to transcend the barrier of culture, to read through subtitles rather than speech, requires a seriously tight execution. The acting is brilliant across the board, but I think special commendation should be given to Jang Hye-jin and Kang-ho Song for their performances as Kim Chung-sook and Kim Ki-taek. Their ability to communicate such delicate fluctuations in tone and feeling, in many ways, makes the film what it is. Weaker performances from either of them in this ambitious film would have been hugely damaging.
Parasite’s international success is well earned. Bong Joon-Ho has claimed that whilst the film is set in South Korea, it deals with something we’re all living with the effects of – capitalism. Something particularly noticeable in the style of both the comedic and tragic scenes of the film is that the poor family are not looked down upon in the slightest, they are fully developed and intelligent. If you’re after poverty-porn, give this one a miss. Bong’s extensive work on the themes of class and environment in Okja, Snowpiercer, The Host and Mother, definitely lends maturity to Parasite which appears to be missing in the depictions of financial precarity from less experienced directors. For that reason, I especially recommend the film to any students who’ve experienced financial hardship whilst studying at LSE – the depiction of class dynamics is extremely familiar, and if you’re sick of the working class being represented like a volunteer-tourism advert, you’re in luck.
In his review of the film, Mark Kermode describes Parasite’s genre-bending as “Shakespearian”, and this couldn’t be more accurate. Thanks to Hong Kyung-pyo’s masterfully deliberate cinematography and Yang Jin-mo’s slick editing, within scenes – or even within single shots – there are fluid tonal shifts between comedy, horror, tragedy and thriller keeping you on the edge of your seat. The timing of the film is near-perfect with each shot of the film being just long enough to get the point across without ever making it laborious. And the film refreshingly places a huge degree of trust in the audience. There’s no obvious pauses for jokes and without noticing some of those brilliant cues in the vertical flow of the film, set design and lighting, you may leave without having really experienced the narrative to its fullest. I remember when the film ended, my first thought was, “Oh, that’s what a good film looks like”. Parasite is a brilliant example of the golden rule: “show, don’t tell”. It truly allows the audience to experience the film, enter a dialogue with it, and build their own realisations and interpretations from it, rather than telling them what it’s supposed to mean.
The promotional material of Parasite doesn’t reveal much about the movie – and I mean that in the sense that I found many people surprised to hear that the film has comedic parts. Bong Joon-Ho has made it explicitly clear that he wants as little given away as possible before audiences see the film, which definitely improves the viewing experience. However, I sincerely hope from a marketing perspective that people find the motivation to go and see the film without a Queen song in the trailer and Timothée Chalamet on the poster.