FAR EAST, SOUTH ASIA AND AUSTRALASIA
This had to be my first choice for a film from South Korea, given the huge amount of media attention that has followed its multi-Oscar-winning release. As everyone now knows, the 2020 Oscars have been historic in awarding the Best Picture plaudit to a foreign-language film for the first time. No matter that Bong Joon-ho (who also won Best Director, and who co-wrote the film, which also won Best Screenplay and Best International Feature Film) had previously dismissed the Oscars as “not an international film festival. They’re very local.”
The British BAFTAs had, just days before, awarded Parasite the prize for best film “not in the English language”, while the overall best film prize had gone to British war film 1917. Hot on the heels of BAFTA best actor winner Joaquin Phoenix’s speech calling out the whitewashing of the film industry in the West, I did wonder if the Oscars panel had a bit of an “oh shit” moment, and swiftly scribbled out their first choice for best picture, and wrote in “Parasite” with Sharpie à la US President Donald Trump and his (allegedly, possibly, maybe) doctored weather maps.
So, anyway, is Parasite any good? The short answer is yes. It’s extremely entertaining. As a social satire it is not aiming for subtle, and it is full of Quentin Tarantino-esque levels of violence and chutzpah, as well as dark humour. It has a few plot holes, but you’ll be so swept up in the action they don’t detract from the overall whole. I wouldn’t recommend it to my most squeamish friends though, as it definitely aims for the shock factor, which meant I ended up watching parts of it through my fingers.
The Kims are a family living in a crappy Seoul basement and only just about getting by, living hand to mouth and doing odd jobs. Their fortunes improve, however, when they meet the rich and credulous Parks, but their newfound good fortune is soon challenged by a disturbingly unexpected turn of events.
As an attack on middle class complacency and the depth of social inequalities the film works very well. The Kims’ ups and much more frequent downs notably prompt a searingly fatalistic soliloquy from Song Kang-ho (who plays the family patriarch), when they find themselves, quite literally, at the wrong end of a shitstorm.
The success of Parasite has resulted in widespread announcements of the imminent rise and rise of South Korean culture throughout the Anglophone world, and forecasts of a surge in the popularity of world cinema overall. We can only hope. As Bong Joon-ho himself is quoted as stating: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to many more amazing films”.