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By midlandsmovies, Feb 7 2020 02:36PM

Parasite (2020) Dir. Bong Joon-ho

With near universal acclaim, Palme D’Or winner Parasite is the new film from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho who tackles the complex amalgam of poverty and wealth in this multifaceted drama.

Opening with the Kim family’s below-ground apartment, we get to see a “window on the world” from their perspective. They undertake menial and low-paying work whilst their tiny and messy basement apartment sees them living in crowded squalor.

An opportunity arises when the family’s son (Choi Woo-shik as Kim Ki-woo) receives a tip from his friend that he could take over his tutoring job at a rich family’s home. With a fake degree certificate created by his sister (Park So-dam as Kim Ki-jeong), he heads to the extravagant house of the Park family to teach their young daughter English.

Much like Okja (our review) and Snowpiercer, Joon-ho tackles societal issues and jampacks his movie with metaphorical allusions to class hierarchy. The social order is represented on screen with physical window lines and staircases separating the two sides of affluence and destitution.

However, the film takes no sneering position as the desperate family hatch a plan to infiltrate the Park’s household. Kim Ki-jeong, the daughter of the Kim family takes a role as an art therapist, the father of the family Kim Ki-taek (Snowpiercer’s Song Kang-ho) becomes their chauffeur whilst they conspire to get the family’s housekeeper fired. That allows mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) to replace her.

Yet the Parks aren’t portrayed as innocent victims either. The father (Lee Sun-kyun) demeans Kim Ki-taek for his unnatural “smell”, whilst Cho Yeo-jeong as the mother Yeon-gyo has her innocence undercut by her lack of empathy and dismissive attitude towards her home help.

[slight spoiler] The film takes a dark turn when the previous housekeeper returns to reveal a secret bunker in the Park’s mansion where her debt-riddled husband has been hiding for years. This begins a three-way dynamic where the hidden couple uncovers the Kim’s diabolical intrusion and threaten to tell the Park family of their scheme.

The film’s visuals are excellent as darkness and light illuminate the difference between the characters’ circumstances. Moving “into the light” from black doorways see characters jump between their social statuses. More on the nose however is the Kim’s escape down the city’s stairs back to their abode, an obvious and somewhat clichéd “descent to hell” allegory.

Another time the Kim family hide like cockroaches from their employers after abusing their hospitality and for me, this came across as a little patronising with the family home becoming its own echo chamber for the director’s heavy-handed satire. We get it right! Yes, the class system has a visual (and literal) hierarchy and the “those-above and those-below” simple trope was also a weakness of Jordan Peele’s US.

However, the tempo does help keep the audience off-kilter as to who the dupe and who the perpetrators are. The pecking order is not as always clear cut as it may seem and the director allows the audience to think about both sets of circumstances to create an ambiguous moral mood throughout.

Aspects of horror and bloody violence in the second half were much needed and helped ratchet up the dramatic interactions. And the precise editing emphasis the great visuals where stark lines and fantastic lighting embed all of the director’s motifs.

Undeniably beautiful and intricately constructed like by a cinematic watchmaker, Parasite questions who is exploiting who in a remarkable parable on humanity and society. And in the end Joon-ho’s themes of the blood-sucking rich hosts and their poor victims – or is it the other way around – infests your mind in a profound moral tale with an outstanding cinematic touch.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Nov 2 2017 09:31AM

Okja (2017) Dir. Bong Joon-ho

After the fantastic Snowpiercer – a train-based sci-fi dystopia that got bogged-down in UK release legal limbo but was our 3rd favourite film of 2014 – the South Korean director returns with an excellent tale of animals and social responsibility.

Bringing along Tilda Swinton from Snowpiecer and adding Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins and Jake Gyllenhaal, the real star(s) of the show are child actress Ahn Seo-hyun and her oversized gene-spliced pig-walrus pet Okja.

Swinton plays Lucy Mirando whose shady corporation are conducting a ‘superpig’ breeding competition around the world and, after many years, select a winner. This happens to be Okja who is based far away in the countryside with Seo-hyun’s Mija. And from frolicking around woods and streams, Bong pulls at the heart-strings from the outset. The two have a chemistry that carries beyond the screen, which is quite the feat given the animal’s CGI rendering, but warm personality shines from both the loveable pet and its protective owner.

The corporation attempts to take Okja to be crowned in New York City but are intercepted by the Animal Liberation Front (led by Dano) who aim to expose the abuse the company inflicts on animals. With truck chase action and a thrilling sequence with Okja causing public destruction in a brief escape, Bong adds excitement and intensity to the film’s moral conflicts. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a mad scientist called Wilcox and steals the show with a pantomime performance as he tests, breeds and tortures poor Okja in horrific scenes made all the more harrowing by his disturbed control freak.

The film questions the meat industry by shining a light on shady practices and slaughter-house gruesomeness and my only gripe that – and as a meat-eater I take full responsibility for my choice – he wears his position so visible on the film’s sleeve that it becomes slightly ‘preachy’ towards its conclusion.

That said, even this old carnivore was made to think about the responsibilities and moral justifications about an industry that prioritises mass culling over individual animal rights. And I think many others will feel that too in a fantastic drama about ethics and culpability. And if you don’t fall for and root for the adorable Okja then you may already be dead inside.


Midlands Movies Mike

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