MA 15+, 2 hrs 11 mins
Dendy Canberra Centre, Palace Electric New Acton
Review by © Jane Freebury
Writer-director Joon-ho Bong makes bold and confident films with tremendous visual flair. The Palme d’Or he received at Cannes for this film last year suggests that the venerable film festival is at last catching up with the quality of cinema from South Korea.
Films by female directors are taking a little longer.
As you might expect from a best film at Cannes, Parasite looks good, very good. Even the scenes that take place below street level, in the basement where Ki-taek (popular actor Kang ho Song) lives with his wife Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang) and two adult children, are constructed with visual flair and in long takes that allow the details to resonate. And it is shot through with Bong’s bleak humour. He co-wrote with Jin Wan Han.
The family lives pretty much hand to mouth, scrounging and swindling. The best place in their flat for using their neighbours’ wifi involves a squat near the toilet. Fumigation from the street is another opportunity. They leave the windows open for the fumes to billow in to rid their home of pesky bugs, though they will contaminate the pizza boxes they are folding for a bit of cash.
they are a family of consummate grifters, fun to watch as their moves go undetected
No sooner does the son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) get a job tutoring in a wealthy family, the Parks, than the rest of his tribe pile on board. Ki-taek replaces the driver, Chung-sook the housekeeper and daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park), whose forging skills enabled the opening for her brother in the first place, also nabs a job tutoring the Park’s little boy.
The Ki-taeks are a family of consummate grifters, fun to watch as their moves go undetected by the Parks, who seem to operate in a world of their own, which is, of course, the point.
One day, Mr (Sun Kyun Lee) and Mrs Park (Yeo-jeong Jo) leave their extraordinary modernist marvel of a home in the care of their servants. It seems they don’t suspect the Ki-taeks belong to the same family, even though little Da-song (Jung-heon Jun) remarks that all of them smell ‘the same’.
Then, during a downpour, the former housekeeper returns to feed her husband who lives hidden in the bomb shelter below. The encounter between the grifters and this pair, their class allies, is rich with savage social satire. Below ground or under the radar, it’s the only way to survive.
a vertiginous descent from high society to the underclass below
Then, the Parks return early, their camping holiday washed out by the heavy rain, but the servants just still manage to escape detection.
The moment of reckoning arrives at a very fancy party in the Park’s garden when vicious violence erupts. All the more ghastly for taking place in a garden in bright daylight and within a colourful, celebratory mise en scene.This is another film from a director whose social satire carries a sharp edge. Bong’s futuristic thriller in 2013, Snowpiercer, saw social privilege get its just deserts, though who deserves what here will be more debatable.
And like another recent South Korean film, Burning (that used the same cinematographer, Hong Kyung-pyo), Parasite makes reference to the widening social divide in Korean society and societies everywhere.
With its graphic violence and creepy threat from the basement, Parasite could easily have tipped into horror mode. Awards for genre at Cannes are rare, but this is largely black comedy with wit and humour, and enthralling camerawork that takes in the vertiginous descent from high society to the underclass below.
Jane’s reviews are also published at the Canberra Critics Circle, the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and broadcast on ArtSound FM MHz 92.7 (Arts Cafe)