I had heard nothing but unrelenting and unusually universal acclaim for Boo Joon-ho’s “Parasite” before I got to see it myself. Perhaps this influenced my perspective on the film, I would hope that it hasn’t but either way I don’t think I was as blown away by this as everybody seems to be.
Don’t get me wrong, for the first hour of the film I was on board completely; the film is clever, funny, slick, gripping, unique and incredibly insightful in its social commentary and I could completely understand why “Parasite” had become such a phenomenon. It was exciting and different to what I had come to expect in Hollywood films (perhaps this is a fault of my own for not engaging in more foreign film) and I enjoyed that sense of unpredictability. Almost exactly half way through the film however, there is such a sudden and dramatic shift to a style of thriller which is certainly consistent with Korean cinema, but was for me an unwelcome and jarring shift from something that was so fresh and unique to something that was by no means bad, but certainly lacking the originality and finesse of the first act.
“Parasite” tells the story of the Kims, a poor Korean family who are wealthy in street smarts and savvy but in not much else. The eldest son, Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) scores a tutoring job for the upper class family the Parks, and is in awe of their world, with servants and immaculate furnishings and in at complete odds to his own life in every possible sense. Ki-woo figures out fairly quickly that the Parks are completely cushioned and protected from the rest of the world, and unbelievably naive. Armed with this knowledge, the Kim family gradually infiltrate the Park home and fill every household position while the Parks are meanwhile completely oblivious to how blatantly they’re being manipulated. While the Parks are away one weekend, the Kims go to town on their liquor and food but are interrupted by a visit from the previous maid, and their entire scheme is threatened as the Kims struggle to maintain their deception of the Park family.
This sudden shift to thriller that I mentioned earlier is by no means to the complete detriment to the film; the second act works well enough, but I found that the scares and plotting and action followed a more conventional formula than the first act, which disappointed me. I can’t emphasise enough how much I loved that first act, the social commentary was clever and multi-layered, demonstrated especially well in the conversations between Mr Park (Sun-kyun Lee) and Mr Kim (Kang-ho Song). There is an ongoing motif of the Parks commenting on the smell of the Parks, “like when you boil an old rag” and the Parks’ disdain for the poor is demonstrated in that they’re completely unaware of it; they may see themselves as above such prejudices, but they will never see the Kims as their equals.
There is also a real sense of fun in the first act of the film, we as an audience feel like we’re in on the scam and enjoy watching the Parks being duped so heavily. The Kims are by no means portrayed as virtuous or morally superior to the Parks, they’re actually quite despicable in many instances. One of the best observations made in the film is how money acts as an iron, and smooths out all creases. “She’s nice because she’s rich! Hell if I had all this money, I’d be nice too!” I’m not sure if I agree with this entirely, but it’s an interesting thought that the rich have the luxury of being polite and nice because they don’t have the pressures associated with being poor.
I’m glad that “Parasite” and Boo Joon-ho are receiving such acclaim and attention, it was a good reminder for me certainly to expose myself to more foreign films. “Parasite” is a fresh and exciting film with a stellar script and unbelievable direction and I enjoyed it immensely. However, I can’t help but feel that as “Parasite” progressed, the film began to lose a little of what had initially made it original and so wonderfully compelling, and I did find myself wondering what might have happened had it continued down that road.
By Jock Lehman