UAE first look: Parasite (Korean) movie review
Opening our eyes to a different side of Korean society, this dark comedy is practically perfect
IF SIX NOMINATIONS including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the increasingly homogenous American Academy Awards aren't sufficient testament, hopefully our review of one of the greatest movies we have seen in years will persuade you to go watch the Korean work of genius that is Parasite this weekend. And if you believe that opening gambit for an evaluation possesses all the subtlety of a tap dancing elephant, you are not mistaken. When we absolutely adore a picture we want you to know about it. Plus it's fitting for a film which, from minute one, sets out its stall making no attempt to disguise the twisty, quirky, amusing, thrilling tale it is about to sell you.
Let's try to fill you in on the plot without giving too much away. Officially termed a black comedy, Parasite opens on the Kim family - a highly intuitive yet down-on-their-luck working class clan comprising brother and sister, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), and mother and father, Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) and Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho). The story begins with the four sharing their cramped Seoul basement apartment searching every corner of the property for a glimmer of nearby WiFi signal to pilfer; the upstairs neighbours at that moment inconsiderately password-protecting their broadband and mobile provisions having long since been cut off. The siblings happen across a café's free service, only reachable from the bathroom, and the two crouch by the toilet downloading messages. Meanwhile mum and dad settle down to folding pizza boxes, from which the only current meagre income stems. Ki-woo's friend Min (Park Seo-joon) soon arrives and the Kims' lives will never be the same again.
Min, a college student and tutor, is moving abroad and suggests Ki-woo takes over his English teaching gig at a wealthy family's uptown pad. Despite his lack of qualifications (easily sorted with the help of sister Ki-jeong's Photoshop forgery skills), our charming hero lands the position and enters the Park household. Naïve but sweet matriarch Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) rules the roost, caring deeply for her teenage daughter, Da-hye (Jeong Ji-so) whom Ki-woo is going to instruct, and young son Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun). When it is discovered the primary school lad is in need of an art teacher, Ki-woo 'may just know a highly respected painter who could be available'... Enter Ki-jeong posing as a Chicago-trained art therapist and "friend of a friend" who breezily waltzes into the job. What's that? The Parks now need a new driver and housekeeper after a couple of backhanded incidents instigate sudden dismissals? The Kim parents (although their real identities are kept confidential) happen to be available and come to the rescue. Quick as a flash the cunning collective have fully implanted themselves into the Parks' lives, are living off generous salaries, and life couldn't be sweeter. That is until one night an unexpected guest threatens to reveal their ruse.
We have heard Parasite termed a 'heist movie' and we'd have to agree. Despite the lack of car chases and explosions, the first hour where the various scams are planned are up there with the great con films of our time. The acting across the board is so utterly on point, the Kim group phenomenally manage to pull a Breaking Bad and have you rooting for their nefarious deeds in an instant. As a result of motives not being too dastardly (opinions may vary) you don't mind the Parks being taken for a ride and can't help but hope the Kims' scheme isn't uncovered.
From a grander perspective, Parasite illustrates Korea's societal divisions of which we were unaware. Having only really been superficially exposed to the wealthier elite aspects of the country's more modern culture (here embodied by the Parks), it was inevitable there would be those left behind and it was refreshing to see them represented on the big screen through the Kims in a comedic yet nuanced manner. It is a credit to Bong Joon-ho's direction and writing we came away from his movie not only having been thoroughly entertained, but also enlightened.
Our rating: 4.5/5