If I were to name my favorite directors working today, you’d be shocked by the amount of movies they’ve done that I’m not a fan of. Yet I still look forward to their films, because you know at the very least, you’re in for a few very special scenes. That’s the way I feel about South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Mother, and Memories of Murder; the last of which was his breakout film that also combined dark humor with horrific violence).
Now, just as I thought Lee Chang-dong’s Burning was good (but overrated) last year, this South Korean film deals with social classes and economic hardship (as the director did with Snowpiercer and The Host). It’s refreshing that it wasn’t preachy, and that the rich family were the nice ones (albeit a bit clueless). We watch as a poor family one by one weasels their way into working for them, and the lengths they’ll go to to get those jobs.
We see the unemployed Ki-taek living in a crappy apartment with his wife Chung-sook and their teenage children Ki-woo and Ki-jung. It seems the only work they can find is folding pizza boxes (and they can’t even do that right). Over coffee, Ki-woo’s friend tells him he’s going off to travel and offers him the job of tutoring the young teenage daughter of a rich family. And if you’ve seen the trailers, they do a marvelous job of making the story look rather intriguing, without giving away anything that transpires. All you know (or need to know), is that this guy is an interloper, and things are going to go south.
When he starts tutoring Da-Hye, we see she has a crush on him. The reluctant mother, Mrs. Park, is quickly impressed by Ki-woo. Of course, he had to have his sister forge a diploma to prove he’s qualified for the job.
When Mrs. Park expresses interest in an art teacher for her son Da-song, the light bulb goes off in his head. Ki-woo has his sister apply for that position, without the Park’s knowing they’re related. Now, I won’t begin to tell you how the parents finagle their way into employment for the Park’s, but it’s all jaw-dropping.
The movie changes tones, but it all works. Now, the 3rd act gets a bit crazy, but…you’ll be dazzled by what you’re witnessing.
There’s some terrific framing by cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong (Burning, Snowpiercer), and the way dirty urban alleys, flooded apartments, and beautiful mansions are filmed, works wonderfully.
There’s also the best use of Morse code in movie history (Current War, which opens here this weekend, also uses it nicely).
This film is surprisingly fun for being so dark, and it’s a shame so many American moviegoers are turned off by subtitles. This film is a shoe-in to win “best foreign film” at the Oscars, and it’s probably going to be one of those rare foreign films that also gets a “best picture” nomination as well (Life is Beautiful and Il Postino are two that did that I loved, Roma last year was one that did, that I didn’t care for).
I was at an event in L.A. a few weeks ago with a number of film critics from that area. When I asked the famous Leonard Maltin what his favorite movie of the year was, he and three others all said Parasite, without even thinking about it. And if you glance at Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s 99% score…most of the critics are calling it the best movie of the year (one of them called it the best movie of the decade). I can’t praise it that much, but it’s good.
3 ½ stars out of 5.