2019, Movies

Parasite [Gisaengchung] (2019, Bong Joon Ho)

So obviously there was a lot of talk about this movie when it came out. But somehow – and I really don’t know how – I kind of missed much of it, at least when it comes to the plot. (That I forgot it all in the last 2 years.) I regard this as a miracle because it was one of the most discussed movies of 2019.

So, I just want to say my usual thing about films: this one is probably better the less you know about it. I knew little and so much of it came as a complete surprise, which greatly increased my enjoyment of it.

SPOILERS but nothing too extreme

In many ways, this is a pretty incredible movie – it manages to blend laugh-out-loud black comedy with thriller levels of tension, something that is pretty rarefied in the movie realm. It does so deftly with very few missteps. I don’t think it was the best movie of 2019 but, having finally watched it, I now completely understand why it dominated the conversation. I have seen maybe only one other film remotely like this, and it was a disaster. (I actually think it was inspired by Parasite.)

There are some genuinely surprising moments in the film – which is hard to do to someone like me, who has seen too many movies – and the tone is pretty consistent throughout. Even when you think things might be getting more serious the humour stays (if you’re willing to laugh…). Some of the shots are extremely well done and it’s quite a pretty film despite its subject matter.

What’s keeping it from “best movie of the year” are minor nitpicks, and they really are quite minor. There is one scene where the Kim family sweep a whole bunch of things under the furniture and this never comes back, or is even mentioned again. Maybe that’s intentional, but most other things – Chekov’s window, for example – come back. This feels like an oversight, unless it’s some kind of comment about how the rich can’t see the poor. (It really could be.)

And I didn’t love the denouement, which has less comedy than the rest of the film but also is a little unclear as to what has happened to the lead character. I won’t get into details due to spoilers but there is a possible continuity error (again, a nitpick) and it’s hard for us non-Koreans to fully understand their, um, legal situation.

People on the internet are at war over what the film means. Most people seem to think the rich people are the parasites whereas some have suggested it’s clearly the poor people, probably just to be contrarians. To that I want to say, first, this is the same director who made Snowpiercer one of the least subtle recent films about class conflict I’ve seen, so we can guess where his sympathies lie. But, second, I think one key strength of the film is that it is open to both interpretations. I don’t think it really matters who the parasites are, I think the point is likely a broader one, about systems and how they influence behaviour of both the rich and the poor.

Anyway, it’s lots of fun and it’s really great to look at. It might not be the most believable movie you’ve ever seen but it’s so assured you can relax and enjoy the ride.


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