Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Stubs - Parasite

Parasite (2019) Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Chang Hyae-jin Directed by Bong Joon-ho Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won Produced by Kwak Sin-ae, Moon Yang-kwon, Bong Joon-ho, Jang Young-hwan Run Time: 132 minutes. South Korea Dark Comedy, Drama, Thriller, Foreign

It is rare to see a film for the first time with as much hype behind it as Parasite (기생충) does. Prior to my seeing it, the film had been lauded at the Cannes Film Festival, The Golden Globes, and Writer's Guild Awards. It is also nominated for a string of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, and Best Film Editing. Quite a coup as the first Korean film to be so honored.

I recently had the opportunity to watch the film, though it was transactional rather than theatrical. While I like to see films for the first time in theaters, the way they are meant to be seen, sometimes compromises have to be made. And I wanted to see this film before the Academy Awards to see for myself what the hype was about.

And I say, I agree with about half of it. For the most part, the film is worth it. The dialogue is good and the acting is as well. However, there are too many holes in the story for me to buy all the hype. While this is a different culture than what I'm used to, that doesn't mean that logic has to go out the window. The film relies on the naivete of a very rich family. Since it seems that the rich man, Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) runs a company, believing that he's a captain of industry but afraid to confront anyone doesn't really pan out for me.

The Kim family can't correctly fold a pizza box but we're
 supposed to believe they are criminal masterminds.

The story revolves around how one family, the Kims, who are just squeaking by, manage to very quickly infiltrate and run the Park family, who are rich and live in great luxury. The Kims easily manage to undercut the Parks' confidence in long-term employees and replace them with a family member with similar though undeveloped skills and pass as experts in their fields. Ki-woo, aka Kevin (Choi Woo-shik), is an English tutor for the Parks' underage daughter Da-hye (Jeong Ji-so); sister Ki-jeong, aka Jennifer (Park So-dam), is an art teacher/art therapist for the Parks' son Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun); father Ki-taek ( Song Kang-ho) replaces Song Kang-ho (Park Geun-rok); and mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), who can't properly fold pizza boxes, takes over for long-time came-with-the-house housekeeper Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), whom the Kims get summarily dismissed on a ruse. For the plot to work, the Parks are apparently too dumb to notice the differences or the familial resemblance amongst all their help. The Kims are therefore able to thrive in the vacuum they've created. Everything seems to be going according to "plan" when things go horribly wrong.

The Kim family manages to infiltrate the Park family and become a part of
 their trusted social circle in a matter of days in Parasite.

The problem is there doesn't seem to be a plan rather than a vague one; Kevin might someday marry the Parks' underage daughter. There is a possible subplot about identity theft or rather a seed is planted but is not allowed to grow. The Kims, who are suddenly making more money than they ever have, are still living in the same squalor they always have been and don't ever seem to have two nickels (or the Korean monetary equivalent) to rub together.

And like a good horror film, there is the basement. We are led to believe that the Parks are unaware of its existence even though the house was built by a famous architect and similar ones exist in rich Korean households as bomb shelters against possible North Korean aggression. I won't go into what's in the basement but think about why wouldn't the Park family know it existed.

Some fuss has been made about Americans watching films with subtitles. Even director Bong Joon-ho chided about it from the stage at the Golden Globes. While I don't have a problem with them I would like to point out that there are several times that the white lettering gets hard to read when it is displayed against white and bright backgrounds. Also, there are some points as well where the subtitles are not strict translations but where the story is somewhat Americanized. As an example, while Koreans have rights to an attorney they probably don't refer to them as Miranda rights since that's an American court case.

There is a tendency to reward and laud films that don't follow a Hollywood formula and I believe some of the hype is based on that when it comes to Parasite. It is a good film, with some interesting ideas, though I never felt like it all came to fruition. I'd like to think that the Best Film of the year is one that I would want to see again (and again). This is a standard that the Academy Awards does not always meet but it also applies to Parasite. While I'm happy to have finally seen it, I'm not looking forward to seeing it again.

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