Last weekend, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” was screened to a crowd of 200 people in Burlington at the Vermont International Film Festival.
In a packed auditorium, executive director Orly Yadin explained to us that this was not an easy film to secure because the studio would prefer to keep the film playing in major cities. Let’s hope that the distributor becomes more confident in “Parasite” because this could easily be one of the best films of the year.
“Parasite” is a lock for Best Foreign Film, and after “Roma” broke through last year, it may be nominated for Best Picture.
The story follows the Kim family; a nuclear Korean family whose financial hardships have them living almost underground with half-windows providing the only “fresh” air and sunlight. The whole family spends their days folding pizza boxes for next to nothing when the son, Ki-woo, is offered a job.
The wealthy Park family is looking for an English tutor for their daughter, Da-hye, played by Ji-so Jung. Ki-woo may not have a degree from a university, but he is really clever and can think on his feet. With some Photoshop assistance from his sister to forge a degree, he is able to land the job.
That is where I will stop.
All I’ll say is that this job opens the door for the two families to become more intertwined. The first half plays out as one of the most engaging dark comedies in this decade. Joon-ho understands how to play the twists; when to use slo-mo, how music can elevate the situation and how the actors can play up what is happening.
Most importantly, the world on the screen is real.
Without giving away any explicit spoilers, a stand out sequence involves someone falling down a flight of stairs. The first shot is incredibly slick; and the choreography is perfect. You enjoy how well-timed it is and when the person hits the bottom of the stairs, the result makes you wince. Riding the line between cinematic pleasure and realistic human pain is fascinating and makes this movie stand out.
In a discussion with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Bong Joon-ho said that the homes and the town was built as a set. The production designer Ha-jun Lee deserves an Oscar for his work. The alleyways are unbelievably lived in and feel completely disconnected from the Park’s mansion, but you still feel like they can exist in the same city.
The mansion sits on top of a hill, surrounded by a concrete wall and inside it is pristine, no clutter and all the surfaces are buffed to shiny perfection. Up there, a rainstorm is serene but for the rest of the town, it compounds into a homewrecking flood.
These themes of socioeconomic gaps are not entirely new to Joon-ho. In 2013, he adapted the graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” into “Snowpiercer,” another film that commented on class distinctions. While this film doesn’t take place in a dystopian future and Chris Evans isn’t on the poster, “Parasite” is more exciting.
There are no villains in the world of “Parasite.” The characters are engaging because they cannot be labeled.
Ki-woo may be lying to this family, but he needs the money. The Park’s may have more money than they know what to do with it, but they treat everyone equally and with respect.
It is really interesting that even though this film was produced in South Korea, the idea of the wealth gap resonates in America as well.
Just look at Jordan Peele’s “Us,” our film industry is also engaging in these themes. When arts and entertainment website Birth.Movies.Death asked the writer and director about what makes this movie universal, he said, “essentially, we all live in the same country… called Capitalism, which may explain the universality of their responses.”
If you really enjoyed “Us” earlier this year, and are looking for a way into the world of foreign films, this is a powerful gateway film. It burrows deep into your subconscious, and you will not want to let it leave your brain.