Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Parasite is wild. It’s just about everything a movie can be, it’s hilarious, tense, dramatic, unsettling, satirical and even a bit moving. That a movie should be all those things seems improbable, but combining two things like farce and pathos into a single story is nothing new to the works of Bong Joon-ho.
His Memories of Murder, for example, was at times broadly comedic but ended with a note of silent contemplation. Moving between such drastically different tones would seem to be illogical, like speaking two different languages, but I suppose we go along with it because no one’s life, even a single day, is constantly one thing or another. There is farce and drama intermingling in so many everyday moments, it just depends how you look at it.
In Parasite a poor, unemployed family living in a half-basement works its collective way into the lives of a rich family living in a secluded little estate like the sinister one of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth. Ki-woo is gifted the position of an English tutor for a young girl, Da-hye, by his friend, Min. Why, Ki-woo asks, would Min pick him to tutor Da-hye when he has plenty of other friends off at college who are more qualified? Min explains that those frat boy friends would drool all over the teenaged Da-hye, whom he plans on asking out once she has graduated high school. Almost immediately after meeting her, Da-hye and Ki-woo engage in a rather uncomfortable little romance.
It’s the first sign that our protagonists, the Kim family, doesn’t mind bending the rules.
From there Ki-woo tells the wealthy Park family matriarch, Yeon-kyo, that he knows the perfect art therapist for her “genius” but eccentric son. It’s the classmate of his cousin in Illinois, and soon his sister, Ki-jung, has properly educated herself enough to play this new role.
From there they get the Kim family driver arrested and then so too their housekeeper. In their places arrive their parents, Ki-taek and Chung-sook.
This is such a delirious and exciting film. It’s wild, bending our own subconscious rules for proper narrative storytelling, at least in the sense that the protagonists are not ‘pure good,’ and then that the film both leaps through time and then spends what feels like thirty or forty minutes of runtime on a single night.
It’s messy in the best possible way, in other words, and keeps you guessing. Midway through the film there will be unexpected revelations which, no matter how absurd, fit in the realm of this world and speak to the class structure themes. No matter how deranged this all gets, it’s grounded in something more humanistic and relatable.
From there it becomes pure chaos, with the family’s best laid plans chopped up by something like nature, fate or something more cosmic. Because they occupy a moral gray area, there is a certain freedom on the part of the movie as a whole to twist, yank, crush and stretch them until they are like once-soaked towels once wrung out and crumpled, twisting back into shape as they bake in the sun.
There’s a freedom here that I wish all movies had. Maybe it’s studio oversight that limits movies into much more narrow of a scope or maybe it’s just the thought that something like this can’t be pulled off.
Parasite reminds me of Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, if only because they are both so free to be whatever they want. There is drama and pathos, screwball comedy and squeamish violence. These movies, despite or because of how they bend the rules, make you feel things, all kinds of things. They are delightful, dense experiences that have something to say and a confidence with which they say it.
The subtext, the themes, there may be some importance and weight to it, but the films never over-indulge in self-importance. It’s not that I think self-importance is necessarily a bad thing, but there’s something to be said for a movie that can convey such weighty, even abstract ideas in more crowd-pleasing ways. After all to sit down and watch a movie is to express some kind of patience, some willingness to give thought and attention to something that hasn’t yet earned it. We spend so much time, it seems, entertaining ourselves with the things we already know will entertain us, be it following the same sports teams, binging our favorite tv show or going to see a new Marvel movie with a baseline expectation of what those two hours will provide.
But Parasite, like with any original movie, has to earn that attention. It has to flesh out its world, its characters and its theme while keeping you hooked to the screen. And this movie does it quite well. It’s a f*ckin’ awesome movie in which none of its characters, no matter how ostensibly broad and delirious they are, feel flat or hollow. It’s comedy and drama derived from real life.
Up Next: The Lighthouse (2019), The Laundromat (2019), Long Shot (2019)