Stern words need to be had with the bigwigs that control film distribution. Having pretty much dominated the film world discussion since its Palme d’Or winning debut at Cannes Film Festival back in May 2019, Parasite earned an almost mythical reputation. Those fortunate enough to have witnessed the film at film festivals throughout the year couldn’t have hyped the film more. A film that needed to be seen to be believed; one of the best films of the century; the next legendary feature that will be on Best Of lists for generations to come.
The cinephiles among us in the United Kingdom couldn’t wait for Parasite to finally grace our cinemas, and yet, for those burdened with living on this cursed island, we were the final country on the planet to be given access to it. I wish that was a joke. You have to scroll for an eternity through the film’s IMDb release dates until you reach the UK and Ireland, who finally get the film on February 7th, a mere two days before the Oscars, in which Parasite has such a vested interest.
Mercifully, lucky Odeon and Cineworld members were given early screenings recently, and Parasite finally has a place at the UK cineaste table. The verdict? It was worth the wait.
Snowpiercer director, Bong Joon-Ho, returns to the well that launched him into the Western cinema zeitgeist with this brand new eat-the-rich parable for the ages. A working-class family, living in a basement in the doldrums of the city, badly need money. They’re living off scraps, forced to steal the free Wi-Fi from the café across the street, struggling to make ends meet as they all work low paying, temporary jobs. When Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-shik) is offered a job as a tutor to a wealthy family, the Kim family begin to formulate a plan to infiltrate the rich Park family.
Reviewing Parasite is a daunting experience. Given its hugely delayed release over here, it feels like everything that can be said about the film already has. And yet, it’s a film that I haven’t stopped thinking about in the weeks since the Odeon Screen Unseen. Parasite, truly, is one for the ages.
Starting with the performances, Parasite is filled to the brim with memorable characters and a string of criminally underrated performances in awards terms. Every accolade sent Parasite’s way is deserved, but the way Song Kang-ho’s performance has been overlooked is particularly upsetting. Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems and Song would have made the Best Actor category one of the best we’ve seen for years, but instead, we’re stuck with Jonathan Pryce loving football and a serviceable Leonardo DiCaprio performance (by his own standards). I digress.
Song’s Ki-taek is the mastermind of the scheme, and it’s abundantly clear that Ki-taek is having the time of his life in the film’s first half. Though it’s played for laughs, the slow-motion look to the camera of a fake-bloody-tissue pulled from the rubbish is one of my favourite moments of the year because of the faux-sincerity etched across his face. The second half of the film sees Song’s performance morph into something truly special, as a man struggling with the burden of responsibility and facing the consequences of his actions that run right through to the film’s final words.
Song’s performance can be summed up in one of the film’s major final moments as a party goes awry, and Bong deploys one of his signature shots. He used it with Chris Evans in Snowpiercer, and he uses it again here; a profile shot showing his subject looking off-screen in both direction, forced into a decision. Everything we need to know is in this moment of near-silence is written across Ki-taek’s face, and despite the momentary hesitation, we always knew the decision he was going to make. It doesn’t make the decision any less poignant.
Elsewhere, brother and sister Ki-Woo and Ki-Jeong (Park So-dam) are effortlessly great in their roles as the English and Art tutor respectively, both pulling off the charm needed to get into their position and feeling woefully out of their depth as shit hits the fan. Further, Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) is brilliant as the naïve, wealthy mother, tricked into allowing this family into her home as her familial infrastructure crumbles from within. All of the characters in the film deliver Bong’s whip-smart script superbly, delivering the comic one-liners as well as the hefty emotional resolutions as we reach the film’s climax.
Beyond the performances, it’s genuinely difficult to find a fault with Parasite. It feels like a film that was made with all of the love and attention Bong could have possibly given. It blows my mind to this day that they built that gorgeous house entirely from scratch and are somehow not the favourites for the Best Production Design award at the Oscars. A pivotal scene in the film has made its way into the Twittersphere recently and it’s been one I watched every time I saw it. The score, the frantic-yet-smooth camerawork as the family rush around the mansion to prepare for an unexpected visitor, the lighting, the layout of the house. Bong and his creative team use every square inch of their gorgeously designed abode with such purpose and confidence that it’s impossible not to be impressed by it. It’s masterfully done.
Without delving into spoilers, the way Parasite is constructed from beginning to end could be used as a set text in all future screenwriting classes. The BAFTA Award-winning screenplay from Bong and Han Jin-won has a meticulous nature to it. Its story is both relatable and wildly high-concept; the characters on both side of the plot – the predator and the prey – are brilliantly realised; its pacing is pitch-perfect. There is a moment at almost the exact halfway mark of the film is one of the most well-established, well-shot, and well-delivered rug-pulls I’ve seen in film for years. This is where the film goes from terrific to something completely transcendent.
Parasite is the product of a director working at the very height of his powers. Bong eschewed the high-concept sci-fi of his previous films in favour of something much more grounded in realism, but it wouldn’t be a Bong Joon-ho feature without this surprising rug-pull. It’s a sequence that casts the entire first half of the film in a different light and is largely the reason why Parasite has stuck with audiences for so long. The layers and complexities of the film just waiting to be unfolded by its viewers are plentiful, and I’m sure there are elements still undiscovered.
The acclaim and consistent hype that surrounded Parasite for the months that we waited was not unfounded. Parasite is sure to be one of the best films released in the UK in 2020, one of the most talked about films over the coming weeks, and will live long in the memory as we discuss our Best of the Decade list in 2030. I’ll just come out and say it. Parasite is a masterpiece.
Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
Written by: Bon Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Chang Hyae-jin, Cho Yeo-jeong, Lee Sun-Kyun, Lee Jung-eun