I managed to see Parasite on the day it came out in the UK, which was a great experience. I’d been clamouring to see it since it came out in the US, and contemplated finding a stream for it, but was just desperate to see it the way it was intended to be seen. Me and my mates usually go to the local Odeon, where it’s £6 a ticket. However, Parasite took us all the way to Exeter Picturehouse, where we paid something like £12 a ticket. For a bunch of students, that’s a lot, but we felt this would be worth it. I’d seen Snowpiercer and Okja, so I had some appreciation for Bong Joon-Ho’s previous work, but nothing could have prepared me for this film. I had sky-high expectations, and they were exceeded.
I’m about the millionth person to tell you, but please watch this. It’s not just for “film” people, it’s exhilarating and just a pure entertaining watch. The word “unique” is thrown around a lot. It’s rare you see something truly unique, beyond comparison. Get Out was, I would say The Killing of a Sacred Deer was, and this was. Those three would make a hell of a triple feature, although I would fear for the moral outlook on any viewer willing to brave all three in one go. It’s hard to find words to describe Parasite that haven’t been used, but I’ll try. The film very much takes on three sections; black-comedy, thriller and horror. It’s easy to define where those separations come, but I’ll try to avoid spoilers so as not to ruin it for anyone. Please do not look up the plot for this film before you see it, it’s best if you’re at the mercy of Bong as he meticulously reveals each slight twist and turn.
As the title would suggest, Parasite is very much concerned with class. Bong referred to Snowpiercer as his corridor movie, and Parasite as his staircase movie, and the stairs are a metaphor so obvious you would have to be blind to miss it. Upstairs = high class, downstairs = low class, got it? The settings are stunning, the sprawling mass of Seoul feels alive as the Kims scuttle around, up and down the stairs, going from the Park’s beautiful house (that was actually built) to their semi-basement. The class struggle in the film is very clear, but where it excels is by not really casting a villain. Indeed, the title could refer to either family, as both could be considered to be leeching off the others. It’s hard to really get into the film without spoilers, so I’ll leave it there, but I’ll just say that the class struggle definitely becomes more complex as the film goes on. Not only does the film make a statement about ambition, but it comments on the effects of capitalism as well as how all people treat each other on a human level. The Park family are a super portrayal of an upper class family, not evil or rude, but reinforcing their place above the Kims.
The cinematography in this film is truly stunning, as Bong uses every tool at his disposal to tell a visual story. The shot composition, framing, camera movements and selective cutting is all fantastic, and does a great job of enthralling the audience. The film gives us some iconic imagery that will surely be talked about for years to come. The acting too, is fantastic. Not understanding the language and being forced to read subtitles is no barrier at all, as the acting is all just so good. Song Kang-ho is a standout performer, but every member of the cast plays their part.
If I was to have one criticism, which I do, it’s the lack of subtlety. The film is about class, and it really smacks you in the face with that. The way the Parks act is subtly arrogant, but the themes of the film are very apparent. That’s not a bad thing, but I wish that maybe there was a bit more to it. To compare it to a film like Get Out that really touches on a few different themes and slowly unravels those themes, Parasite‘s meaning is very much apparent from the start. It’s a story of class, and that’s what you’re going to get. There’s not a huge amount of details and clues to unravel on a second viewing, like Get Out provided, giving a more interactive experience.
It feels like a disservice to criticise Parasite, because it’s as close to perfect as you could hope for. I would challenge anyone to dislike it. The suspense that’s built is masterful; I’ve never been so on the edge of my seat, and the film is hilarious, there are proper laugh-out-loud moments. The tonal shifts are masterful – this film really is a director at the height of his powers. Bong finds himself at an interesting crossroads. He became the second man (the first being Walt Disney) to win 4 Oscars in one night, which is no small feat. He has arrived in the Western world, although in my opinion Snowpiercer should have done that for him. Along with Villeneuve, Nolan, del Toro, Lanthimos and many more, Bong proves that non-Americans can tell gripping stories that critics and the Academy cannot ignore. From here, does Bong try to appeal to this new Western audience and cement his legacy? Or does he draw back into his cult fanbase, and make films that the mainstream Western world isn’t interested in? For me, there’s no reason why he can’t do both. The Western world has to open its mind to stories like Bong’s, and I think his next film is critical to the landscape of Western film. It’s an interesting time…