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Parasite (2019)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Once Upon A Time In South Korea"
5 stars

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho has made a name for himself throughout the world with a series of films that have combined bizarre humor, social commentary and a cheerful willingness to take classic genre tropes and twist them around in wildly unexpected ways. This has resulted in a number of great films over the year—the true-life serial killer investigation “Memories of Murder” (2003), the “Godzilla”-inspired monster movie epic “The Host” (2006) and the elaborate train-based dystopian sci-fi saga “Snowpiercer” (2013)—and even on the rare occasions when he has slipped—I confess to not being much of a fan of his odd “E.T.” riff “Okja” (2017)—his mistakes have at least had the good manners to be as ambitious as his successes. With his latest film, “Parasite,” he has managed to top not just himself but practically every other movie to come out this year. Arriving in town on a wave of hype that began when it won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, expectations could not have been higher but this film somehow manages to exceed them without even seeming to break a sweat with a one-of-a-kind combination of keenly felt drama and sly social satire that is already a master class in contemporary filmmaking before it shifts narrative gears in ways that need to see to be believed. (I will try to keep my specific points regarding the narrative in this review to as much of a spoiler-free minimum as possible but it is best if you go in knowing as little as possible.)

As the story begins, we observe a South Korean family—father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam)—are living in the most abject form of poverty imaginable. Stuck in a basement apartment where the window affords them a glimpse of drunks peeing in the alley outside, every room is stuffed to the gills with stuff that they simply cannot afford to get rid of and every day finds them trying to find a spot where they can sneak free wi-fi, they make a few bucks here and there doing menial jobs like folding pizza boxes and even that source of income is drying up quickly. Salvation of a sort comes with the arrival of a school friend of Ki-woo’s with a proposition for him. He is going away for a while and needs someone to take over the English-language tutoring of Da-hye, the teenage daughter of the insanely wealthy Park family. Of course, Ki-woo is not attending university like his friend but has taken the entrance examinations enough times to know what the family might be expecting and besides, Ki-jung, a talented artist, can easily forge the necessary paperwork. The friend also has an unspoken agenda for picking Ki-woo—he is in love with Da-hye and figures that he is better off leaving her in Ki-woo’s destitute hands than entrusting one of his more obviously appealing university buddies to the task.

When he arrives at the Park’s vast home, it is like entering a different world all but removed from the slightest hint of reality—the kind of benign isolation that comes with wealth and privilege. Ki-woo interviews with Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo Jeong), who immediately trusts the newcomer to such a degree that she hires him on the spot without even given him or his resume the kind of cursory look over that most others might take. While being shown around the house, they come across Da-song (Jung Hyun-jun), the Park’s wildly spoiled younger son who runs around the house indulging in his current fascination with Native American culture. Having already won Mrs. Park’s trust, Ki-woo mentions that he happens to know a brilliant art therapy teacher who might be persuaded to make time in her schedule to serve as a tutor for Da-song. The next day, he returns to the house with Ki-jung in tow, not letting on that the two are related, and she is hired as well. Before long, the two have engineered the dismissals of the Park’s chauffeur and long-time housekeeper and Ki-taek and Chung-sook have been installed in the positions and between their wages and their place in the rarefied air of the Parks, they feels as if their ship has finally come in.

All of this occurs roughly within the first half-hour or so of the story and it is at this point that I will say no more about what occurs next. Of course, some of you out there may think that you have a pretty good idea of what is to come, depending on your particular point of view. Take the title of the film, for example. Some of you out there may assume that it referring to Ki-woo and his family for the way that they are taking advantage of the Parks, even though they are doing the jobs that, although acquired under fraudulent circumstances, were hired to do and their compensation is barely a drop in the bucket of what the Parks have. Others of you may think that the Parks themselves are the real parasites for having exploited the forces of capitalism to amass such an ungodly amount of wealth that they can farm out practically every aspect of their existence that doesn’t bring them immediate gratification for someone not as well-off to do for them. As it turns out, you would be wrong because Bong and co-writer Jin Won Han have a lot more on their minds and demonstrate it by sending the storyline in unanticipated directions that will shock, startle and amuse even the most jaded of moviegoers, often all at the same time.

One of the unfortunate drawbacks of seeing a ridiculous amount of movies for a living is that you quickly begin to pick up narrative patterns and after a while, you can more or less get a sense at a certain point as to where a film is heading—sometimes in the broadest of strokes and sometimes so specifically that you could virtually cue the actors if they began to forget their lines. Watching “Parasite,” it began to dawn on me that once it got past the basic setup that I described above—which is pretty much the extent of what I knew about the story going in—I had no idea of where Bong was going with the material next. This was thrilling enough but as it continued on, he somehow managed to sustain that sensation for the remaining 90 minutes or so that remained. At the same time, “Parasite” is not one of those movies where the initial surprise turns out to be all that it has going for it. This is a story that is so expertly constructed—ranging from the way that it has made all of its characters into full-blooded people instead of caricatures (even the Parks are generally nice people whose worst aspects—such as when they mention the smell that people who ride the subway supposedly have—are borne more out of cluelessness than outright hostility) to his often-inspired observations on the wealth gap separating the two families—that as soon as it is over, you will want to watch it again immediately in order to appreciate just how well all of the pieces have come together.

That said, the brilliance of “Parasite” is not based solely on an ingenious screenplay. This is top-notch filmmaking on virtually every level and while I cannot really offer up any specific examples of such without running the risk of revealing things best left unrevealed, I can say that what Bong offers up here is practically a master class in virtuoso filmmaking. This is the cinematic equivalent of a high-wire act that somehow manages to always keep its footing throughout. There are wild shifts in tone from scene to scene—sometimes within the scenes—and he moves between them with astonishing skill, especially in the way that he sneakily weaves a darker undercurrent through the lighter material in ways that you hardly even notice until he eventually springs them upon you with the kind of quicksilver skill of Hitchcock or De Palma at their respective peaks. Visually, the film is a stunner as well with cinematographer Kyun-pyo Hong creating a look that is compelling without coming across as too show-offy. The performances from the entire cast are excellent as well, especially the ones turned in by Boo regular Kang-ho Song as the poor-but-not-that-proud father, Yeo-jeong Jo as the oddly endearing Mrs Park and Jeong-eun Lee as the Park’s hapless original housekeeper, who is so entertaining that when she is dismissed, you will find yourself wishing that there was some way that she could come back.

As I said, “Parasite” is one of the very best movies of the year and for those with any familiarity with the work of Bong Joon Ho, seeing it is obviously a no-brainer. However, I know a lot of people out there who might look askance at the very notion of watching a subtitled Korean movie about the divide between the haves and the have nots. How can I convince such people that this is a film worthy of their time and attention? I dunno but all I can say is that if they choose to avoid it for those reasons, they run the risk of missing one of the most daring, surprising and compulsively entertaining film of any language to come along in quite a while. Trust me, unless you can no longer respond to anything on a movie screen other than the usual array of hard-sell superhero epics, you will not only have a blast with this, you will want to tell all your friends to see it immediately as well. Just make sure not to tell them too much.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32934&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/17/19 08:42:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/18/20 Jack Sommersby Smug, solipsistic left-wing poppycock. A real insult to true cinema. 1 stars
5/21/20 Marty Boring for too long. Overhyped for being a foreign film most can "get" 3 stars
3/07/20 Koitus Excellent movie!! I can see why it won so many awards. 5 stars
2/21/20 Luisa Good film, had some shocking and entertaining scenes, worth a look. 4 stars
2/18/20 Chester Unique story combined with excellent acting! 5 stars
2/18/20 Considered Mostly uninteresting, not enough to occupy the mind, but well made 3 stars
1/07/20 Langano Great film. 4 stars
11/11/19 Louise (the real one) Good plot, good performances & is absolutely gripping! Superb film-making! 5 stars
10/23/19 Bob Dog Very good, but there are many very good Korean films every year. 4 stars
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  11-Oct-2019 (R)
  DVD: 28-Jan-2020


  DVD: 28-Jan-2020

Directed by
  Joon Ho Bong

Written by
  Jin Won Han

  Kang-ho Song
  Sun-Kyun Lee
  Yeo-Jeong Jo
  Woo-sik Choi
  Hyae Jin Chang
  So-dam Park

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