We take what we can when a chance is in reach.
‘Tis not a behavior we humans must teach.
We covet and crave and we grasp and we use,
And somehow find ways to ignore and excuse.
And many believe some are worse than the rest,
More prone to wrongdoing, more quick to detest,
And common it is to believe that such foes
Are less than a human, the lowest of lows.
Yet sins such as these are not tied to one class,
One race or one creed or one crowd to harass.
We humans are kindred, for better or worse,
And vice is the same in a world this diverse.
MPA rating: R (for language, violence, and sensuality)
My mind has been ruminating over Parasite ever since I saw it in the theater three weeks ago, trying to decide what exactly I think about it. After hearing people gush over this obscure Korean film that was becoming increasingly less obscure, I was surprised and curious when it managed to snag a Best Picture nomination. It was the last nominee I saw in the theater this time around, and I liked it well enough. Yet in the days that followed, my opinion of it kept edging higher, its layers of meaning and metaphor being peeled away in my head. And then, lo and behold, it went from dark horse to Best Picture winner at the Oscars, the first non-English-language film to do so!
The Kims are a lower-class family of four struggling financially, doing what they can to make ends meet. When son Ki-woo gets an opportunity to tutor the daughter of the affluent Park family, he jumps at the chance, even though he must lie about his credentials as a university student. Soon, his self-justified fib morphs into an ongoing plot to provide his whole family with jobs in the Park household: his sister as an art therapist, his father as a chauffeur, and his mother as the housekeeper. Their scheme goes well at first until things begin to unravel as untruths and unkindnesses pile upon each other.
I’ve been trying to pin down why Parasite is so critically beloved, at least in terms of its cinematic style. In some ways, it’s like the Korean equivalent of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, its thriller elements leavened by occasional humor and underscored by a potent social message. But I think the best and most flattering analogy is that it is a mixture of Hitchcock (exploration of human nature’s dark side, methodical direction) and Shakespeare (fits of mania, mistakes leading to disastrous consequences), both critical darlings themselves. Bong Joon-ho made history winning Best Picture, Director, and International Film at the Oscars, and, although a part of me considers it potentially a politically correct choice, I can’t deny that it’s deserving.
With public opinion increasingly turning against the rich, Parasite feels like the right film at the right time to earn its acclaim, and the stark class divide in South Korea also makes its story work best in its Korean setting, making me hesitant about the upcoming American remake. Yet there’s a balancing act at play as well, in which neither the poor Kims nor the wealthy Parks are pigeonholed as good or bad. There are sympathy and blame to go around, deceit and a distinct lack of empathy at work in them both, as well as other characters I won’t spoil. At one point, while reveling in the Parks’ home while they are away, the Kim matriarch declares, “If I had all this, I would be kinder,” yet within minutes, she is offered a choice between harshness and mercy and chooses poorly. From themes of escalating class rage to man’s knack for long-term shortsightedness, the plot is replete with subtlety yet remains entertaining as it embodies the saying, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”
Typically, I know my own opinion of a film by the time it ends or within a day or two if it bears rumination, so it’s a rare thing when my opinion continually goes up for reasons unknown. I still consider 1917 to be a more technically impressive film that I enjoyed more (and Sam Mendes definitely should have won Best Director IMO), but, despite my mild disappointment when Parasite won Best Picture, I’m okay with its win. I’m still not a huge fan of its violent climax, but I can’t help but admire Bong Joon-ho’s cinematic craft, from the brilliant bewilderment of its central twist to the setting and composition of the Park home, which deserves a place among notable houses in film.
Parasite is proof of the director’s memorable line from his Golden Globe acceptance speech: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Even if it’s not destined to be a personal favorite of mine, this is not just a quality Korean import but a quality film, period. For me at least, Parasite attaches itself too strongly to ignore.
Best line: (Kim Ki-taek, the father, referring to the Parks) “They are rich but still nice.” (Kim Chung-sook, the mother) “They are nice because they are rich.”
Rank: List Runner-Up (though it comes closer to List-Worthy than I expected)
© 2020 S.G. Liput
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