Bong Joon-ho’s – Parasite
By Jay Armstrong
Thoroughbreds meets The Tribe in Bong Joon-ho’s latest and quite possibly most substantial work, Parasite. Although the film feels void of overt cultural awareness, having the revolutionary state of class tensions boiling in every region of the world at the time of this release seems oddly lighthearted in context. Then again Joon-ho is from South Korea. He was born into this tension. Is there anything more consistent through his work than having remained poetic and near whimsical through even the darkest moments of his films? Parasite is a conversation on class lacking polarization, a beautiful alternative dissection of truth in relationships when two opposite segments of society find their paths entwined; no heroes only humor with a growing sense of impeding doom felt in viewing as we bear witness to the stifling rigid near fatalistic limitations of two families better off having kept the gate locked which shielded their relative upper and lower class existences from the other.
Once again we see Kang-ho Song in front of Joon-ho’s lens. As the filmmaker takes his boldest step in proving himself all the more one of the greats, so does Kang-ho. His rare ability to pull us from laughter to awe in a single take sweeps our psyche every moment of the film. A common observation to be made as the flawless Han Jin Won script finds itself in the hands of a cast so skilled they prove each to be equally impressiv as a lucky tutoring opportunity for the son (Woo-sik Choi) becomes a window of opportunity for his parents and sister. Soon the entire family has taken over roles for the wealthy household; the daughter pretending to be an art psychologist, the mother the maid, Kang-ho chauffeur; we find the experience of the family they go to work for mirroring our own emotional manipulation. Although we never stop feeling sympathetic for the well off family in their wholesome denial, the film evolves and we begin seeing a Titanic-esque cultural statement made on how the wealthy too use and fetishize the poor but through much more repressed and subtle ways; after all the wealthy are nothing if not ever noble for the sake of nobility in everything they do.
Our felt enjoyment of the down and out Kang-ho family has a Raising Arizona familiarity with a Pattinson/Safdie Good Time shine reflecting the holy spirit of Heathers under clear blue Royal Tenembaums skies. I go back to the opening statement this is Thoroughbreds meets The Tribe; sweeping between the idealism of the first and the brutal enthralling shocking realness of the latter done with Hitchcockian perfection. Leaving the theater none of the comparisons are to be found crossing our minds. Those are flashes felt along the way to be circled back on as we try dissecting the experience in conversation later on. When the house lights go up our only thoughts are wow.
Bong Joon-ho has an ultimate grasp of archetypes yet retains a soft eye for kind spirited actors each with such domination of skill to show a masters course of range in every single scene allowing the jerky wild turns of the plot the fluidity of a meandering stream passing with near glass stillness in the warmth of a gentle spring day. Joon-ho speaks through the beauty of his cast yet demands you never resign to the shallowness of seeing them defined by it. Falling in love again and again and again we experience the naivety of the wealthy mother, the unstoppable will contrasted by lazy lacking ambition of the poor daughter. We soak in the screen with the eyes of a lover gazing upon a crush going about even the slightest action. We feel the same by the near taboo of tutor and pupil through their fumbling innocence. The dynamic of wife and husband relationships, uniquely separate yet identical in bond, there is a romanticism we feel towards all relationships in the film, each pair has a humble openness the camera only allows us to taste the ambiance from without giving any context to the unfathomable depth we perceive bonding each to the other underneath. Parasite ultimately expresses the faceted characteristics in ourselves as a healthy balance, the possibilities and pendulum swings from one emotion and style of thinking to another defining us as complex individuals; Bong Joon-ho shows us the balance which can be created within the house of ourselves. Then in his typical unique way shows what happens when our own carelessness allows the balance to be thrown off. At which point the entire film dissolves before us as though it is the opening moment of a demolition derby. The gas pedals are floored, the rear tires are spinning with slow grabbing muddy traction, until finally the mounting expectations crash in on itself with climactic cinematic perfection, not a word short of awesome, at a volume of insane none of us could have predicted.
As Scorsese and Marvel fans clash in debate over who gets to decide what art is, the rest of us rational thinkers who see validity on both sides of the argument could argue all day about what the best film of 2019 is and get offended because the thing we really like is not the same thing the other person really likes, this year has been one of phenomenal unique scripts crafted with appropriate budgets, reaching the appropriate audiences. Sure we would like to see more diversity, sure we would like to see more female directors, more reflective of the all-romances, let us not ignore though the near constant output of content which exceed the expectations of fans within the box they find themselves defined by; The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Joker, The Lighthouse, etc, etc, etc, all deserve to be purchased to be placed out in the open with “do I watch it again today” potential. If one were to argue that Parasite is better than any other film this year, we could hear their words and find the only argument to the contrary being that maybe one or two others hit us slightly harder, ultimately though we should all agree this concept of best or better to be asinine when comparing greats and should only be done by friendship tongues with playful jest. At the end of the day this seems to be the place Bong Joon-ho creates from.
Directors are bombarded after every film with the question of what comes next? Where do they go from here? Let us take this moment instead to look back over twenty years of developed, shaped, honed, craft from Bong Joon-ho with the optimism he will possibly bring us something else someday which he too will look to it as he should this one with the proud eyes of one who poured themselves out nobly, refusing to be defined by the limitations of the moment yet if another film were to never come, if he were to focus his energy elsewhere for the rest of his days, let us be grateful for what we have here, a new offering which pushes beyond explanation the potentials of perfection.