Honestly, are you at all reluctant to see movies with subtitles? I have to be in the right mood. They require a certain amount of mental work and you can’t look down at your popcorn for even a few seconds for fear of missing something.
Our viewing of Parasite was at noon on a Saturday, since our very un-art-house Regal 16 apparently felt that two hours of precious screen time early in the day was all that could be spared for a film that doesn’t have star power, explosions or talking animals. And if Parasite had not been nominated for Best Picture it’s unlikely we would have been given any chance to see it at all.
Metaphors abound, or are at least proclaimed to be in abundance by numerous characters in the opening scenes of Parasite. One particular “Scholar’s Rock” continues to make appearances like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a gift to the Kim family from Min, a friend of son “Kevin” who asks for a favor that sets the entire plot of the movie in motion. Min is about to study abroad, but has a crush on the daughter of the wealthy, very westernized Park family. He needs Kevin to fake credentials in order to become her English tutor, essentially keeping an eye on her in Min’s absence. Sister “Jessica” has graphic design skills that allow her to pose as an art teacher and therapist for the Park’s spoiled and energetic young son.
We meet Kevin’s family in a tiny, squalid basement apartment in Seoul, stealing WiFi from nearby sources, dependent on their cell phones and attempting to eek out a living by assembling large quantities of pizza boxes for an area business. They live at the end of an alley where drunks urinate outside their window, a window they leave open to benefit from free fumigation for stinkbugs. If we feel pity for the family of four, that’s about to change. They have a plan.
What evolves is a web of deception involving each member of the family in a complicated scheme to prey on the gullible wealthy occupants of a former architect’s mansion. The home has a secret of its own, shielding another breed of parasites that eventually emerge to battle for survival. But the Kim’s apartment imbues them with a lingering stench that betrays their true status, a station in life that comes back to haunt them, and from which there is ultimately no escape, only another plan. But as it is stated in the film, “The only plan that cannot fail is no plan at all.”
In an IMDb interview writer/director Bong Joon-Ho reveals that the idea for Parasite was just “in my brain” kind of like a parasite. The interviewer struggles to extract answers to basic question from him and two main cast members. Is this a language problem, or does he rely entirely on a deep talent for stitching together visually engaging scenes with a script that pulls the best from his actors. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s accomplished this. In 2013’s Snowpiercer, based on the French science fiction graphic novel of the same name, the few survivors of a second ice age Earth travel around the globe in a train for seventeen years. Here too, class plays an important role, elevating or oppressing characters as they struggle within the confines of the vehicle, almost like a play.
Parasite is gathering almost universally high marks from critics and audiences. It has the feel of a Guillermo del Toro production, minus the monsters, unless monstrous human actions are tallied. Its improvisational approach takes you to the edge of your seat with anxiety as a house of cards begins to crumble and characters mount a frantic attempt to cover up their antics ala Risky Business. It is an unusual mix of light comedy, crime and drama that will leave you thinking about deeper meaning long after viewing. Greed, wealth, poverty and desperation form a toxic stew conducive to parasites in this South Korean film. See it before someone spoils it for you.
Parasite (2020) runs 2 hours, 12 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?