Movie Review | Parasite
Movie review: All unemployed, Ki-taek and his family take peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks, as they ingratiate themselves into their lives and get entangled in an unexpected incident.(IMDb)
Parasite doesn't come out in the UK until February 2020, so when I had the chance to attend a preview screening, I jumped at it - not just because of the reactions from critics around the world praising the movie, but because it's another movie from Snowpiercer director Bong Joon Ho and was going to be an almost guaranteed high level of quality.
Having said that, I'm going to start with my biggest criticism of this movie and get it out of the way so I can praise everything else here. The problem is one of tonal inconsistency, which only really affects the last third of the movie and ultimately left me feeling a little disappointed that the excellence of the first two-thirds was just too high a level to maintain for the entire running time.
Parasite does switch between different tones quite frequently, going from very funny in one sequence, to almost approaching horror in the next. For the majority of the run-time, these changes feel natural and each scene flows into the next beautifully, regardless of the difference in tone between them - unfortunately, this flow doesn't last.
The last third flits between horror, comedy and drama a little too often for any flow or rhythm to events on-screen to fully sink in as they should. Considering how the central story ends (which I'm obviously not going to spoil here), this could be directorial intent to keep the audience unsettled and off-balance. If so, this intent worked a little too well.
The constant shifting of tones caused a disconnect for me from the story and broke my sense of immersion, reminding me of the artifice of events on-screen, which was not the best way to finish watching the movie. I think if the first two-thirds of Parasite hadn't been as good as they are, this wouldn't have been as much of an issue - but those first two-thirds are really damned good.
First off, the entire movie is gorgeous to look at, with some of the most incredible set design, lighting and shot choices of any movie I've seen in 2019. I simply cannot praise the look of this movie enough, with the overhead shot of the Kim family racing through the flooded streets near the basement home a particular highlight for me.
Secondly, the performances are incredible from every single member of the cast - quite the feat when the roles involve half the actors playing characters who are also playing characters. The actors playing the Park family have maybe an easier time of it as they are acting as a well-off family enjoying a lifestyle their wealth affords them, but they are all still fully rounded characters with quirks and tics of their own that are flawlessly performed.
It's the Kim family who are central to events though, with Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) and Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) featured most prominently as son and father respectively, but it's So-dam Park as Ki-woo's sister, Ki-jung, who is the standout performer - both in-universe and in terms of performance. It's a regular source of amusement how naturally Ki-jung takes to pretending to be someone else and how frustrated at the others not matching her level of performance.
She knows exactly what the wealthy Park family wants to hear and how she needs to deliver this information to them, taking everything in her stride as part of the plan to take advantage of her unsuspecting benefactors. It's impossible to talk about how her story arc concludes without spoiling the movie, but I will say that she does suffer for being the Kim to find it easiest to adapt to the wealthy lifestyle.
And that is what this movie is about: wealth inequality, but also how this can unconsciously change people. One example is how the Park family are depicted as extremely nice people to the Kims assumed identities as their household staff, but - as the movie itself points out - this is because they can afford to be nice.
They don't have the stresses and worries that regular people have, their wealth insulating them from hardship and struggle - in complete contrast to the Kims who will take on just about any job they can to make enough money to feed themselves, even living like (you guessed it) parasites, feeding off the wealthier family if that's what it takes for them to achieve even a tiny moment of freedom from their worries.
This isn't to say that the Parks are unwittingly bad people, especially as they are technically the victims of the scam being orchestrated by the Kim family. They are simply unaware (like many people in other societies around the world) of the extent of their privilege, resulting in ignorance of how this may be viewed by those less fortunate than themselves.
And I don't want to excuse the Kim family either as they effectively criminals taking advantage of an innocent family. This blurring of the lines is part of what makes Parasite such a good movie as you can completely understand why both families behave the way they do and also justify how they treat each other - which is one hell of an balancing act.
There is one last twist to the story that I haven't mentioned yet as it would completely spoil the movie, but - to add to the blurring of lines - Parasite isn't a movie about the haves and the have-nots; it's about the haves, the have-nots and the have-even-less's. With the increase in activism surrounding wealth inequality in the real world today, it is important to note that there are some who don't even have the privilege of being able to complain about their treatment thanks to how poorly their society treats them.
Parasite is a really, really good movie that looks amazing and is filled with a fantastic cast delivering excellent performances from start to finish. It can swing from being laugh out loud funny to edge-of-your-seat tension, which works amazingly well for the most part - unfortunately failing to stick the landing quite as well as it could have. Regardless, it remains a hugely enjoyable movie that I will happily watch again when it is officially released.