In honor of the historic Oscar win for "Parasite," THC is dedicating February to the films of Bong Joon Ho.
It’s so clichéd to say, “You have to see X, it's so good.” A superfluous statement such as this one has leeched for attention to such a degree that it’s impossible to be taken seriously, like how too many major new movies are gifted the m-word: masterpiece. However, in the case of "Parasite," it is unquestionably the best film of 2019.
Bong Joon Ho follows his triumphant genre films (Incidentally, I'll pass on a pair of reviews- Okja and Snowpiercer) with the pioneering "Parasite," a sympathetic story of greed and class discrimination that threatens a newly formed symbiotic relationship between the highball Park family and the destitute Kim clan. Naturally, the director is an authority on the faltering conversation of the social plight that defines our world. Described by its creator as “a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains”, the first half of the film bounces a group of lovable con artists off a very wealthy family of awkward eccentrics. And then with the grace of a cossack, Bong distinguishingly maneuvers a hard right turn that asks us what we’re watching as he sends us hurtling to bloodshed. Can the poor really just step into the world of the rich? The second half of “Parasite” is one of the most satisfying visages I’ve seen narratively. The film suddenly menaces one blinded turn too many in ways that plunge the project—but Bong evens up everything, and the result is breathtaking.
The screenplay for “Parasite” asserts Bong as a master- it's subversive wit comes across refreshing and original. As you doubtless know, it is one of those candor works that every few years create a worldwide conversation. Working with the magnanimous Kyung-pyo Hong (“Burning,” “Snowpiercer”) as his director of photography and a dandy design team that is superlative in their execution of set design, Bong's film lays all the cards on the table. Unforgivingly the minimal, eloquent spaces of the first-class Park home juxtaposed against the overcrowded close quarters of the Kim semi-basement aren’t just symbolic, they're visually engaging without ever begging for attention to themselves. Needless to say, there’s a reason the Kim apartment is halfway underground—they’re caught between worlds, broached in the growing chasm between the have and the have-nots.
"Parasite" is a marvelously entertaining film in terms of its glorious narrative, but there’s also so much going on underneath a penchant how the rich use the poor to survive in ways that I can’t dictate due to distinguished spoilers. Suffice to say, the wealthy in any country delegate their needs on the labor of the poor, whether it’s the tutors, drivers, and housekeepers they employ, or something much darker. Kim's family will expatiate that inferno and the sordid cruelty of inequity in ways you couldn’t possibly predict.
The social commentary of "Parasite" leads to duplicative chaos, but it never feels like a didactic message movie. It is somehow, and I’m still not even really sure how both joyous and ruinous at the same time. Stick with me here. "Parasite" is so perfectly calibrated that there’s a joy to be had in just experiencing the sine qua non of each demanding frame, but then that’s tempered by thinking about what Bong is unpacking here and saying about society, especially with the perfect, absolutely haunting final scenes. It’s a conversation starter in ways we only get a few times every few years, a further reminder that Bong Joon-ho is unequivocally a keystone of the filmmakers working in the vocation today. You have to see “Parasite,” it's so good. Dammit. I tried to avoid it. This time it's true.
Next week THC will take a deeper look at the filmography of Kelly Reichardt.