Friday, November 15, 2019

Review of Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite: Unique, Relevant and Powerful, Perhaps the Best Movie of the Year

Review by Ashton Samson

 In 2019, the latest trend in Hollywood seems to be finding original opportunities to communicate creative and insightful storylines. It's almost as if our newest generation of directors, each of whom have proven that they are perfectly capable of filling the shoes of previous directors, united in a secret meeting and decided it was time to tell stories from a different perspective.

     Directors such as Robert Eggers, Taika Waititi, Todd Phillips and Vince Gilligan are all tired of seeing the same superheroes lunge across the screen, or the same jump-scare movie garbage. They want to produce something that will make a difference within the fabric of Hollywood and they all did just that with their new films in 2019. Bong Joon-Ho, the director of Parasite, not only continued the streak with his work, he also delivered the very best film of the year.

     There are myriad reviews out there praising Ho’s unique style, and stating that it was the best movie of the year. That is high praise for a movie, and none of it was wrong. After watching Parasite, I knew I had seen something truly special. A movie of this magnitude rarely comes around in a decade, especially within the group of successful films in 2019

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     What makes Parasite so rewarding and deserving of such praise?  The story itself is ultimately what gives Parasite its power and is what makes it superior to other 2019 films. Bong Joon-Ho is clearly a man of great talent as he is able to deftly combine a perfect blend of dark humor in his witty, upbeat first act, with an immensely somber and inspiring final act to finish the movie off. Despite the mixture, I never found myself overly stunned by any sudden tonal shifts. The film transitions really well from humorous satire to powerful, solemn and philosophical topics relevant to our times. It’s a risky move to talk about such somber and controversial topics, but it only serves to help the film in being more unique. Such philosophical topics relating to the marginalization of certain members of our society becomes the best part about Parasite’s story by the time the credits have rolled.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
At the commencement of Parasite,  the complete and utter desperation of the Kim family to rise above their circumstances is palpable.  You can smell the sewers, feel the grime and worst of all, sense the claustrophobia of quite literally having to live underground in such a confined space. Therefore, it seems a stroke of good fortune when teenage boy, Kim Ki-woo is given the opportunity to tutor for a wealthy, upper class family. 

The film slowly emerges as an absurdist satire, as one by one, each of the Kims latch on to the wealthy Parks, much akin to parasites. At first the hiring of Ki-Woo’s sister as the “art therapist” for the Park family doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch, but as each Kim family member is recruited into employment with the Parks by Ki-Woo, their shrewd manipulation of the Park family escalates to the point of ridiculousness. The liberty that Bong Joon-Ho takes in adding humor to these brilliant, but ludicrous sequences, is both unexpected and fresh. What is even more unpredictable is the eventual turn that the social commentary takes, as the film darkly transitions into its second act. The first half gave me the feeling that Parasite was a comedy about a lower class family latching onto an upper class one in a moment of desperation, as this was the initial storyline. 

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Bong Joon-Ho manages to seamlessly transition his story into one of tragic horror. As the Kim’s plan unravels, we witness them faced with the moral dilemma of giving up their own parasitic behavior to help another similarly situated family - the Parks’ former maid, Moon-gwang - who was set up by the Kims and cruelly fired under false pretenses and her husband whom she hid in the basement. The Kims don’t help the despairing maid and her husband and just as we sense that Ki-taek is about to help them, sadly it is all too late. 

      At this point, Parasite is no longer about one family attempting to bring themselves to the top, and it is no longer clear who is the parasite. The film becomes about the desperation that is hidden in all of us. Not only are the Kims desperate, the family who was secretly feeding off of the Parks the whole time is desperate, and to a certain degree, so are the Parks themselves. The questions raised while the Kims and the Parks try to sort out the mess that has been created are both immensely important to the current climate no matter where we live and is truly sad to ponder.

The pertinent themes and storylines could not have been conveyed with such strength had it not been for some brilliant acting across the board. Despite the relatively unknown actors, each and every cast member delivers better performances than many of Hollywood’s finest. 

     While all of the performances were magnificent, I definitely found myself most attached to Kang-ho Song (Kim Ki-taek) and Woo-sik Choi (Kim Ki-woo). From the moment the film started, I felt a certain affinity towards Kim Ki-taek, whose ability to find joy in simple things, like shoddily assembling cardboard pizza boxes with his family, was portrayed by Song with charisma and wit, eliciting a great deal of empathy from me at once. Song’s skilled performance delivers moments of absolute humor alongside the scenes that address deep, philosophical issues, such as respect, dignity and concern for one’s fellow man, making him the moral center of Parasite. Ki-taek is ultimately just a man who wants to have a defining moment that will bring him back to his brief brush with success, as shown when the camera swiftly zooms past a picture documenting his former success as a runner. 

      Towards the film’s end, driving Mrs. Park after her shopping excursion in preparation for her son’s birthday party, Ki-Taek’s awareness that his “sewer stink” is permeating the car becomes a source of total disillusionment and angst. At that pivotal moment we know that the game is up. He is determined to take back his dignity at all costs. In the act of killing Mr. Park, he gets his defining moment back, but it certainly does cost him.

Choi’s hopeful portrayal of Ki-Woo as an eager young man who takes a novel approach to his new employment to better himself and his family was played to perfection, as was his sadly uncertain end, hidden away in his subterranean apartment once again, less hopeful of the possibility that he will have a second opportunity to rise above his circumstances, make a fortune and save his father from his currently self imposed parasitic existence in the very same basement of the former Park mansion. In the end there are no winners here and there is no comedy, only a heartbreaking, bleak depiction that begs us to focus on our own behavior and how we treat others in our daily life. Who is the true parasite and how can we change that in our current world?