Parasite [movie reaction]

I've been curious about the South Korean film Parasite (2019). I've seen a lot of positive reactions but I only downloaded the movie after it was nominated in several awards for the 2020 Oscar's or the 92nd Academy Awards. The movie did win not just one but four awards, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director for Bong Joon Ho. Once I heard the news, I decided to watch the film. I carefully avoided spoilers to let the movie surprise me.

From the promo pictures, I had the impression that the movie would be horror. After I watched it, it's hard to pin on one genre or label. The film begins with Ki-woo, a young man living in his basement apartment with his poor family: his sister, and their parents. We first see the siblings complaining that they can no longer leech off some upper neighbor's WiFi connection. They try to earn money by doing odd jobs like folding pizza boxes but things don't work out.

The Kim family catches a lucky break when Ki-woo's friend offers him a chance to work. His friend will be studying abroad and has to leave his job of tutoring English to the daughter of the wealthy Park family. His friend also gifts him a 'scholar's stone' - some sort of lucky rock that is said to bring good fortune to the family who owned it. Though lacking in educational qualification, his friend encourages him to just 'fake it' and use forged documents.

He poses as 'Kevin' and meets the family in their high-end, beautiful home. When he saw the younger son's artwork, he recommends an 'art teacher' to the mother. Actually, the plan was for his sister to work for the Park family as an art therapist. Things get funny here - the Kim family slowly infiltrates the Park family's home. Soon, the driver gets replaced with their father. The housekeeper also gets replaced by their mother. They pretend to be unrelated to each other.

It gets amusing in the parts where they easily trick the family into believing them, especially the naive Mrs. Park. The characters of the Kim family are funny and easy to like. Things get dark soon, however, when the old housekeeper returns and they discover another secret in the house that threatens their presence in the Park family's life.

I was first wary of watching the film alone because of my impression that it might be scary, but the first half of the movie is more like a black comedy. There are a few shots that might be surprising, and the descent to the basement is quite nerve-wracking. Like Bad Genius [read my review], the suspense is more on 'Will they ever be found out and what if something blows their cover?'.

What I like about the film is it's so visually arresting and aesthetically pleasing despite the dark theme. I really like the Park family's house. The movie plays a lot with contrast especially with the differences between the Park and Kim family. The Kim family lives underground, with barely enough space for all of them. The Park family lives uphill, in an airy, spacious, and modern house. Heavy rain was only a minor inconvenience to the Parks, while it destroys the Kim family's home.

I'm sure that there's more serious commentary elsewhere on the social inequality depicted in the film, but I'm not the expert on that. No matter what your culture is, I think many can relate to the ways that the Kim family has adapted to survive - including manipulation of those richer than them. However, we can also see that the rich Park family isn't perfect - to some degree, they also exploit those who are poorer. The 'Parasite' in the title doesn't just apply to the Kim family.

The story veers into drama and tragedy, in a very climactic scene that ends with murder. No secret stays forever sealed, after all. Though there is a very thin line of hope, the film ends where it begins - Ki-woo, looking at us, still in the underground house. As the Director describes it, Parasite is 'a comedy without clowns, a tragedy with no villains'.

In an interview with Vulture, the director said something striking about the film: “There are people who are fighting hard to change society. I like those people, and I’m always rooting for them, but making the audience feel something naked and raw is one of the greatest powers of cinema. I’m not making a documentary or propaganda here. It’s not about telling you how to change the world or how you should act because something is bad, but rather showing you the terrible, explosive weight of reality. That’s what I believe is the beauty of cinema.”

I highly recommend this film.

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