Monday, 27 January 2020

Review: Parasite

(aka Gisaengchung)

Cert: 15 / 132 mins / Dir. Bong Joon-ho / Trailer

If the years of writing on this blog have taught me anything it's that opportunities to view one-off screenings of films like Bong Joon-ho's Parasite are to be seized, not least because a) it's the movie everybody is talking about now that the 1917 buzz has died down, and b) it's exactly the sort of niche fare I spend a lot of time complaining about not getting at our lowly five-screener*1 out in the shires. Usually I'm wary of a Friday night cinema audience. But this, I felt sure, would be more refined company.

And so it was, dear reader, that I made the pilgrimage*2 and strapped in for a journey to the unknown, having heard only praise for the film along with assurances that the best way to view it was with as little prior knowledge as possible. In that regard at least, I was prepared...


Teenager Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) and his family eke out an existence in crumbling slums, undertaking low-paid menial work (and usually badly) to even eat in their basement apartment. But when Ki-woo's friend Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon) announces he'll be studying abroad, this opens an opportunity for Ki-woo to step in as the English tutor of an affluent family's teenage daughter Park Da-hye (Jeong Ji-so). Ki-woo isn't remotely qualified for this of course, but that's nothing that forged certificates can't remedy, courtesy of his Photoshop-wiz sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam). Within a couple of sessions teaching (during which he begins an affair with his student), Ki-woo convinces the family matriarch Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) that his 'friend' (ie sister) would be the ideal art tutor for their highly-strung five yr old son Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun). Yeon-gyo accepts delightedly, and within the week Ki-jeong has secured a job for their father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) as the family's limo driver, and he in turn inveigles his wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) as their new housekeeper, all pretending they don't (or barely) know one another.

This web of lies is already at breaking point when the previously dismissed housekeeper Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) arrives at the opulent abode one stormy night with secrets of her own. Then the wildcards really begin to fly...


Director/co-writer Bong Joon-ho sets up his pitch with intricate efficiency, introducing characters with enough pacing that the storyline is never cluttered but that the whole thing also moves at a brisk pace. The film is by no means minimalist but it is lean, with no extraneous content in the first act. The script, erratic and bickering by its nature, is never less than crystal clear, although there's sometimes the feeling that far from being lost in translation, Darcy Paquet's English-language subtitles come out as a little too literal for a film which aims for nuance elsewhere. Although this is probably unavoidable given the subtitles' necessary brevity*3.

The visual disparity between the squalor of the downtrodden basement flat and the upper-class aerie, despite them being only streets apart, is outstanding. Cinematographer Hong Gyeong-Pyo has an innate understanding of the story's spaces and how to convey them to an audience.

Bong Joon-ho immediately finds the natural balancing point between the comedy of the family's intricate pretence and the certain peril of their ruse being discovered. And that point is a needle-stab of gnawing, escalating, unspoken panic. The tension throughout is palpable, and yet the film's brooding undercurrent never quite pays off, even in its enthusiastic finale. Either that or his restraint and refusal to pander to an audience's animalistic appetites is to be applauded. One of those, for sure.


Because as much as I admire the technical aspects of Parasite and forgive the screenplay's contrivances, I never found myself getting swept up in events. Never found myself actually caring. None of the characters are especially likeable to begin with and none are fleshed out enough to change this. And while a viewer doesn't have to like the characters they're watching in any film, it becomes hard to emotionally invest in their progress (or even safety) without it. Meanwhile, plot points like Yeo-jeong's neurotic nature and Ki-woo's growing guilt at having started the whole social-avalanche are little more than footnotes in the grand scheme of things, as the director sets too many plates spinning to be adequately showcased within the run-time.

Short version: I don't quite know why everyone loves Parasite so much. But that's par for the course in January. It's fine isn't it? If you want what is essentially a Korean-language West End farce which violently doubles as an introspective on the class system and surveillance culture, it's absolutely fine.

Next week I might get round to watching then complaining about the new Will Smith action movie. There is no pleasing me. Unless it's got lightsabers in it.

But I would still like to thank Cineworld for showing this ten minutes away from my house. You guys!

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Think of a half-way house between Terry & June and Dogtooth.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're into something a bit different from multiplex-fare, sure.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
That's not my call to make, sadly.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Woo-sik Choi is in this, and he's also in Okja with Shirley 'Babu Frik' Henderson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yeah, future-boy is complaining that his jet pack isn't fast enough again. Five screens, you whippersnapper? Back in my day we only had two if we were lucky and even then there was only one organist... [ BACK ]

*2 Okay, it's a ten minute walk from my house, not exactly a trek to Lourdes with a suitcase full of stones but it's cold out and quite damp at the moment. [ BACK ]

*3 As if I of all people would recognise brevity if it came up and bit me on the arse... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a comment