Though I think it’s completely justified, all of the diversity talk about this year’s Oscar nomination has caused one great achievement to be slightly overlooked. Bong Joon-Ho has become the first Korean director to be nominated and his film Parasite is the first Korean film to be nominated for Best Picture. It’s a massive achievement and one that has been a long time coming. Bong Joon-Ho has been making amazing films for so long but has been overlooked by Western awards. The nominations come on the back of the film’s groundbreaking win at Cannes where it was awarded the Palme d’Or. Maybe somewhat making up for the controversy surrounding his film Okja at the 2017 Cannes Festival. It all came about because of Netflix and the way the film industry felt about the streaming service. Something that hasn’t moved on much since then. You just need to look at Marriage Story and The Irishman to see that. Still, Bong Joon-Ho appears to be on much stronger ground with his latest film. It’s something I’ve been dying to see and I was glad that its inclusion on the Best Picture list meant I would get around to sooner.
I wish that I’d watched Parasite at the end of last year. I worry that watching a film this good at the start of the year is always a bad thing. By the time I come to write my best of the year lists, I’ve no doubt been distracted by something more recent. I’m like a goldfish; if I didn’t watch it 3 seconds ago then I might not remember it. Although, with a film like this, there isn’t much chance of that happening. You never really know what to expect going into a Bong Joon-Ho film but you do know that it’s going to be a great ride. I don’t think he’s ever disappointed me but Parasite feels stronger than ever. As a director, he manages to create arty and sophisticated films that feel like popular films. You know, like sitting down to watch a Marvel movie but that’s been directed by Martin Scorsese so it’s cinema.
It quickly becomes clear why Parasite made such an impact at Cannes. Bong Joon-Ho has created a strange black comedy that deals with issues of class, materialism, family and the desire to move above your station. It is funny and full of suspense. You’ll be on the edge of your seat before you fall on the floor laughing. It’s definitely a career-high in an already illustrious career. It embraces the luxury of the wealthy side of Korean life but understands the frustration of the lower side. The narrative sees a poor Korean family try and infiltrate a wealthy family to get as much from the situation as they possibly can. This is a fantastic caper that sees a family using all sorts of trickery and cons to take what they need. It is an enjoyable film and it speaks very much of its time and place.
Ki-taek is the head of his family and he lives in a fairly squalid basement with his wife, son, and daughter. Their living is meagre and they have to put up with a lot of irritating occurrences. Like the drunk man who insists on taking a piss outside their window on his way home or the fact that his son and daughter must squeeze into the bathroom to get wi-fi. The film is beautifully designed and the juxtaposition between the family’s basement compared with the sumptuous and spacious home of their rich counterparts is perfect. The Kim family’s home sees them looking up at the world. They are literally and figuratively at the bottom of the ladder. It’s no wonder that they are desperate to find a way to move up in the world.
Thanks to a friend, Ki-taek’s son, Kid-woo, gets a job tutoring the young daughter of a wealthy household. He takes the job as a favour to his friend but he needs to fake a college qualification that his sister, Ki-jung, creates for him. Once he becomes part of the family, Ki-woo and his sister work out a plan to get the whole family employed. His sister becomes an art teacher and together they plot to get the driver and housekeeper fired. Soon, all four members of the family are working for their clueless employees and getting paid for jobs they aren’t qualified for. Thankfully, the lady of the house is young and easily manipulated. The Kim family really believe that they have found the perfect meal ticket. But things quickly take a dramatic turn and they realise that it won’t be as easy as they first thought.
Parasite does a really good job of showcasing the relationship between employer and employee. Working somebody’s household is an intimate thing and you gain knowledge of the people you work for that many of their closes friends don’t. However, that doesn’t mean intimacy or friendship. It makes for an awkward relationship that works around a simple balance of power. It is no wonder that there is often so much anger and resentment tied up with the feelings of gratitude and loyalty. Something that becomes quite uncomfortable when an entire family lies their way into a single household. Not only do you have a poor family placed in the middle of luxury and wealth that they believe they deserve but you have two sides facing off against each other. It’s just that, in this case, only one of the sides is aware of it. This isn’t a horror film, per se, but it’s certainly not a completely comfortable one.
This film is such an interesting mix of so many ideas. It is both enjoyable and depressing. It’s funny and horrifying. It is trying really hard to teach you something but it never feels preachy. The story seems quite simple but it suddenly starts to go off in unexpected directions. There is every chance that it could easily fall apart at any minute but Bong Joon-Ho has absolute control over everything. Every scene looks perfect and you always feel as though there is a safe hand at the wheel. There are a fair few Oscar-nominated films that are incredibly over-hyped this year but Parasite is everything you’ve heard. There hasn’t been another film this year that has made me feel this way and I wish it had a better chance of walking away with the big prize.