Parasite (Gisaengchung, South Korea, 2019)

Happy families

While I’m delighted Bong Yong Ho’s film has won a handful of Oscars I can’t claim, with the exception of Memories of Murder, that I ‘get’ his films. Snowpiercer (South Korea-Czech Republic, 2003), for example, shared a ‘battle through a train’ narrative with Train to Busan, but was nowhere near as good. To be fair Harvey ‘Scissorhands’ Weinstein may have ruined Bong’s film, though I read somewhere that a TV spin-off is going to emphasise the class warfare more; maybe this is what the ogre cut out. Similarly, Okja (South Korea-US, 2013), on Netflix, left me cold.

Class warfare, however, is at the heart of Parasite which I thoroughly enjoyed. The brilliant Song Kang-ho plays the dad of a down and out family living in a half-basement apartment and eking out a living where they can, such as folding pizza boxes as pictured above. Although very different in tone, this set up is similar to Kore-eda Hirokazu’s brilliant Shoplifters (which, like Parasite, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes). The family manage to inveigle themselves as servants to an extremely wealthy family and then… Bong asked for no spoilers so I won’t. It’s enough to say the film is brilliantly conceived, executed with superb performances.

At the lunchtime screening I attended at a multiplex there was a decent audience, no doubt some were motivated by the Oscar win announced the day before. Two people left about 30 minutes before the end and probably felt they’d been misled; Oscar winners are often middle-brow bland affairs. The last time a foreign language films crossed over into the mainstream in the UK (and Parasite reportedly took £1m in its first two days before the Oscar wins) was early in the century with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo hu cang long, Taiwan-Hong Kong-US-China, 2000) Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, France-Germany, 2001) and Hero (Ying xiong, China-Hong Kong, 2002). Apparently, for one of these films at least, ushers were ensuring people knew that the films were subtitled before they entered the screening such is the antipathy some people have for reading. It’s great that non English-language films get celebrated and the fact that this is the first time one has one Best Picture shows how ridiculous the Oscars are; as if only Americans (and occasionally British) make great movies! I doubt that it will lead to renaissance in film culture in the UK and America; Parasite will simply be a ‘must-see’ for the bourgeoisie. The fact that multiplexes are running the film also means independent cinemas (my local doesn’t get it for a couple of weeks) are missing out; I will go and see it again. On a more optimistic note, Scott Roxborough reckons that people are ready for subtitles now because of Netflix.

Back to the film: there are some stunning ‘set pieces’ and it is very funny in places. I was bowled over by the journey home the family make during a rain storm. Bong films their descent (literally) from the luxury home to their hovel. The humour is often throwaway: the poor mum (Lee Jeong-eun) is an ex-hammer thrower and in one scene, in the garden of the rich, she flings one into the distance; far on the right of the soundscape we can just hear a tinkle of glass and an alarm.

No doubt Bong will be able to finance his next film with relatively little difficulty. And maybe one or two of the audience who enjoy Parasite will be motivated to look at more South Korean cinema and go beyond Hollywood’s hegemony. I’ll need to return to Bong’s early works because now I might ‘get’ them. If you’re interested the Korean Film Council have planted a ton of classic films here.

2 Responses

  1. […] far (well, that may be the end of it) with Little Women, Weathering With You, So Long, My Son, Parasite, Bacurau and Lillian all fabulous cinematic experiences; Portrait of a Lady on Fire tops them […]

  2. […] far (well, that may be the end of it) with Little Women, Weathering With You, So Long, My Son, Parasite, Bacurau and Lillian all fabulous cinematic experiences; Portrait of a Lady on Fire tops them […]

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