Good storytelling leaves you in awe of the storyteller, but great storytelling throws you off balance.
It gnaws at your subconscious as you wonder just how the characters in the story ended up where they were, arouses empathy and might leave you either happy or devastated in the end.
South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has surely mastered the latter.
Walking into the film, one already knows that its most notable accolade is the glowing review it received from the Academy Award committee.
Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, among four awards it carried home that night.
This did not necessarily guarantee that it would be interesting by all standards, but of course I got curious and decided to judge it myself.
LIVING IN SQUALOR
The movie begins with a family of four living in squalor in a South Korean town, folding pizza boxes in their semi-basement apartment just to get by.
They’re lucky to get a filling meal and have to leech off restaurant Wi-Fi just to connect to WhatsApp, and seem to have trouble keeping their phones on.
The state of their home leaves a lot to be desired in terms of hygiene, given its location and of course, the fact that they probably have more to worry about and are lucky to have a roof over their heads.
They commune at the dinner table over beers and food to celebrate “the reconnection of their phones, and this bounteous Wi-Fi,” in the words of their father Ki-taek.
Then Ki-woo, his son, has a friend come to visit with two offerings: a job and a “scholar’s rock” that promises material wealth to whoever holds it.
The friend, Min-hyuk, is leaving town to study abroad and wants Ki-woo to take over his job as an English tutor to the teenage daughter of the wealthy Park family, Da-hye.
Ki-woo is proficient in English, despite not being a university graduate, so this shouldn’t be difficult. Min-hyuk briefly profiles the family, urging his friend to give the job a shot as it could also be his ticket out of the ghetto should he charm Da-hye and marry her once she gets into university.
The movie unfolds as the entire Kim family executes a plan to get jobs within the Park family home as they try to scale up the social and economic ladder.
The most gripping parallels drawn throughout the film involve the abject poverty of the Kims versus the nearly-obscene wealth of the Parks, which makes for an interesting game of the haves and the have nots.
The best strategy (probably character) award without a doubt goes to Ki-woo’s sister, Ki-Jung. Thank me later.
DARK COMEDY THRILLER
Parasitedescribes itself as a dark comedy thriller, and it uses these tools to provide sharp social commentary on class disparity in South Korea, perhaps the entire world.
Every scene and prop in the film takes on a life of its own to achieve this, whether it’s a peach or a sachet of chilli sauce.
It prompts the classed viewer to take a look at themselves, too; listening to otherwise trivial comments like how grateful the rich are for the rain through the ears of the poor, who dread the rain for how much more difficult life becomes when it falls.
Bong Joon-ho uses his films to highlight societal ills often, and Parasite is no different.
The masterful way he inspires the audience to empathise with the underdogs and how they choose to chase this opportunity at a better life is quite commendable; he manages to create tension in otherwise funny situations and leaves the audience yearning for a great outcome for this family, while drawing resentment for the Parks, who are the typical family they all aspire to be.
All without arousing pity or other dissenting emotions that dehumanise the Kim family.
It also ventures out of the box when it comes to the luxuries that the filthy rich can afford.
While other films and stories might focus on material wealth, Bong uses the luxury of time and planning ahead to show how even the aspirations that society views as basic are not a guarantee when you’re not sure what tomorrow holds.
IRONY OF THE FILM
The irony of the film lies in how American and other native English-speaking viewers preferred a dubbed version of it as opposed to the one with subtitles.
In his acceptance speech at the Oscars, Bong commented on this, saying: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
If you’re not one to enjoy films with subtitles, you’ll probably miss out on this worthwhile watch. With that, Parasite is a brilliantly executed movie and by all means worthy of its Best Picture Oscar.