Korean film makers have been knocking on Hollywood’s door for some time now. From 2003’s Old Boy, which did achieve critical acclaim, even if it’s graphic violence wasn’t quite to everyone’s taste, 2010’s Poetry, to 2016’s The Handmaiden and The Age of Shadows which both deal with Japan’s occupation of Korea have all achieved a certain amount of recognition, but didn’t transfer well across the globe.
Parasite, the one with all the attention, the one that has one all the awards crossed the path of Culture Journal Ireland last night. So did it live up to all the hype….
There’s something about Parasite which seems to be different. It’s universal themes of people living on either extreme of the economic plectrum have struck a chord with audiences internationally. The film shows two families, one at the rich end of the scale; the Parks, the other; The Kims, who live in a dark hovel under the squalid streets of the poor end of town. Their paths cross when the son of the Kim family is hired as a tudor to the Parks daughter.
Slowly but surely the Kim family infiltrate the lives of the Parks, with the mother of the Kim family being hired as a housekeeper. There are aspects of dark leery humour used when the Parks go on holiday, leaving the Kim’s to look after their house. As the story progresses the Kim’s indulge in the some of the same excessive tendencies of their unsuspecting hosts, confusion reigns when the previous housekeeper finds out and tries to blackmail the Kims. There is nothing new in this plot, there is a familiarity about it, reminiscent of Down and Out in Beverly Hills, however there is a dark tinge hanging over Parasite throughout, indicating a commentary on the gap between rich and poor in Korea. As the film progresses the Parks excesses are illustrated to the point of intentional farce on the part of Bong Joon Ho.
In the end what is accomplished is a tense comedy-drama which lays bare the characters obsessiveness in maintaining an excessive lifestyle. When you look at it in depth, it really is a surprise; and a pleasant one at that, that the academy chose Parasite and Bong for their top accolades.