Thursday, October 10, 2019

“Parasite” Accomplishes the South Korean Dream

By José Alberto Hermosillo
“Parasite” is the most outstanding, hilarious, intense, and politically diverse movie of the year.

After “Mother” and “Snowpiercer,” Korean award winner director Bong Joon-ho presents another class-consciousness magnum-opus Palme d’Or Cannes champ.

In “Parasite,” Joon-Ho shows no mercy picking out the differences between rich and poor. Joon-Ho's humanistic approach is undeniable, maintaining a high level of respect for his characters, regardless of their economic status, nor to their true intentions – since none of them are genuinely evil by nature or completely uncorrupted.

The Korean story takes epic proportions resembling an authentic Greek-tragicomedy thru a Universal theme of class-struggle and life-irony. The symbolism of this film has a truthful meaning accordingly to their social-status. For a wealthy family, the rain represents a natural way of cleansing and abundancy. For the poor, it represents a catastrophic chain of events that can wipe them off the face-of-earth – it is almost like fumigating insects or “parasites.”  
Parasite still courtesy of Neon
The incredible journey of trickery and scams begins with Kim Ki-woo performed by the young and talented actor Woo-sik Choi (“Okja,” “Set Me Free”). The sneaky college-age guy takes the opportunity to work as an English tutor at the Park’s residence.

As is usual, poor people’s ambition has no limits. It is almost like rich people’s desires for more wealth, as well. Ki-woo also sees the chance to have his sister Kim Ki-jung (So-dam Park) work in the house as an art teacher for a disobedient preschooler, who is interested in surreal self-portrait painting, and American Indian wildness.
Parasite French poster. Cannes 2019.
Kim’s family determination causes the firing of other key members of the Park’s staff. Renowned actor Kang-ho Song (“A Taxi Driver,” “Thirst,” “The Host”) is extraordinary playing the father Kim Ki-taek. The patriarch of the Kims enters the house as the chauffeur. He is aware of not crossing the line, but his body odor of chip soy sauce causes the repugnance of the wealthy family.

The sense of smell reveals social status, jobs, food, and behavior. In the real world, rich and poor can't get that close because of the smell. In Korea, people responded to the sense of smell right away. The scent is something we can't talk about in public, but it is an inherent characteristic of all human beings.

Describing the genre of this extraordinary piece, Joon-Ho says that when he writes a script, he is never aware of a specific style, because he let the story take the direction itself, without boxing it in one particular category. Everyone can classify his film accordingly to their perception.

The idea of making “Parasite” came out in 2013, during the post-production of “Snowpiercer.” While he was working as a college tutor, he met an impoverished boy who was employed in a wealthy family’s house. He went over, the guy took him upstairs, and the director couldn’t believe how proud he was of working in somebody else's house. This anecdote and other personal experiences motivated him to write his magnificent piece.

The Oscar® hopeful director admits with a good sense of humor: that he is not a “control freak” but likes to control everything. During the pre-production, he did the entire storyboard himself, and it was a big help.

The Park’s house has a bunker in its basement, like many other Korean wealthy families. They built those shelters in case of an atomic attack by North Korea leader “Little Rocket Man,” Kim Jong-un. By the way, the jokes about the commander are part of the hilarious political satire of the film.

The interiors and some of the streets of Korea were built in a studio set exclusively for this movie. That includes epic rain and flood. The work done by the department of set-design is monumental. The whole shooting took seventy-four days. A long time, considering that an average film takes twenty-four days.
Bong Joon-Ho, director of Parasite. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
In a Q&A, after the screening in West-Los Angeles, the director spoke about his film. He said: "In most cases, microaggression towards the dignity of the underprivileged, damages our society." He continued: "When we watch the news, media and audience won’t dig a little bit more into the case - what are the motives, the necessities, or genuine intentions of people implicated."

Bong Joon-Ho worked with some of the same actors in his previous films. They know each other, and in that sense, it is easier for actors to give an authentic performance for a perfectionist director. “Parasite” has exquisite and natural performances by the entire cast.

Funny but true, Kim’s mother quotes: “It's such a luxury to be kind. If I were rich, I would be kind.” The director says it's not morally correct, but it's a straight forward line.
Bong Joon-ho, director of Parasite. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
In society, the essence of family is to stay together. The punishment for their crimes is to end up scattered away. The audience cannot hate the Kim family because they have their charm. Actually, the expectations rule for the poor, making the Kims a very likable antihero.
For the sound-design, Mr. Bong Joon-ho got the inspiration from Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar® winner “Roma.” Joon-ho achieved the same Dolby Atmos sound quality. Only because “Parasite” is also an intimate film and not necessarily a movie with special effects. His approach has to make emphasis on the difference of classes – noisy for the poor, quiet for the rich.

The morality of the film doesn't justify the act of killing and is open to an interpretation. Just remember, none of the characters are criminals, circumstances bring them together – but the calamity reaches all.

Some people may see “Parasite” as socialist propaganda, I see it as masterwork that reproduces reality in a very divided society.
José A. Hermosillo, a film critic. Festival in LA ©2019
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