“Essentially, we all live in a society called capitalism.”
In a recent interview from Birth.Movies.Death., director Bong Joon-ho of Korean film “Parasite” expressed this sentiment when asked about his opinion on the universality of the film’s message. Just last week, “Parasite” won Best Motion Picture in A Foreign Language at the Golden Globes, bracketing the film’s much deserved fan-fare since its USA release in October 2019.
Upon watching the film, it is easy to understand the buzz. Straddling the lower and upper echelons of urban Seoul with slick cinematography, “Parasite” masterfully delivers a biting commentary on class and the desperation of survival in modern society.
“Parasite” opens with a view of the Kim family as they crouch in their semi-basement residence, swapping banter while suffering through a bout of pest control fumigation. The Kims struggle to make ends meet, trudging through low-paying jobs such as folding pizza boxes. Amidst the toil, Ki-woo is propositioned by his friend to pose as an English tutor for a rich family, the Parks. Thus sparks the Kim family’s plot to replace the Parks’ helpers, unknowing of the secrets that lurk under the Parks’ estate.
To see “Parasite” unfold on the big screen is an enrapturing experience. Right from the start, the film juxtaposes the two family’s living situations, with the Kims occupying a cramped semi-basement slotted in a rundown street, while the Parks flaunt a spacious, museum-like mansion in a swanky Seoul neighborhood.
The film’s gorgeous set design is complemented by attention to lighting, which contrasts the sickly green tint of the Kims’ apartment with a clean and almost creamy light for the Parks’ estate. These spaces help to frame the respective characters’ psyches and further emphasize the looming presence of a wealth gap.
As the movie progresses, one would find it difficult to not be impressed by the meticulous direction and editing of “Parasite.” Much of the film’s intrigue finds root in Bong’s use of smooth, slow motion shots, almost as if the camera is gliding from scene to scene. When interspaced with punchy dialogue and a tense original soundtrack by Jung Jae-il, Bong achieves great scenes such as a snappy montage sequence that stitches together the Kim family’s heist and ramps up the audience’s anticipation.
Of course, the cinematography alone would fall flat without a great screenplay (co-written by Han Ji-Won), as well as talented actors to fill in its characters. The ensemble cast demonstrates a fun dynamic, exemplified by banter between siblings Ki-woo (played by Choi Woo-shik) and Ki-jung (played by Park So-dam).
But perhaps the standout performance was veteran actor Song Kang-ho in the role of Ki-taek. Starting off as a comedic character pliant to his children’s scheme, Song showcases his prowess as Ki-taek psychologically descends into darkness and wrestles with horrifying displays of class disparity. Song’s chilling performance, coupled with the genius of Bong, pushes audiences to the edge of their seats, leaving them waiting for the moment when the farce will peel back to reveal the ugly truth.
The success of “Parasite” brings to question the reach of Asian creatives in recent years. In the past two decades, the Korean film industry has continued to grow in notoriety, with cult classics such as Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” reaching international acclaim.
Yet, Bong Joon-ho was the first Korean director to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with “Parasite.” The film also made history as the first Korean film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. When interviewed by Vulture about his opinion on the lack of Korean film nominations for the Oscars despite the industry’s growing presence overseas, Bong Joon-ho simply stated, “The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local.”
Local festival nomination or not, the film continues to be an international hit, racking up $129.7 million in box offices worldwide according to Forbes, despite only being produced on an $11.5 million budget. “Parasite” is a must-watch film for anyone interested in a genre-defying masterpiece that will shake you to your core.
UCSB’s Magic Lantern Films will be screening “Parasite” on Feb. 21 and 24 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. in I.V. Theater.