Parasite (2019): A Thrilling Deconstruction of Class

Image result for Parasite film poster

       “Parasite” is a film that stays with you. This is a film that explores class in South Korea as well as the complicated nature of the human psyche. None of the characters you meet are really likable but they are compelling and I found myself drawn in through the entire film. I wanted to see what would happen next, and the film did not disappoint. This is an amazing thriller and the beautiful cinematography and soundtrack elevate it further. I definitely recommend this film.

The film was directed and co-written by Bong Joon-ho who co-wrote the story along with Han Jin-wan.

The story follows the Kim family who cons their way into fulfilling roles needed by the wealthy Park family. All is not as it appears to be though as the history of the house and the weaknesses into con begin to be revealed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely beautiful and does a good job of pulling you in. Light is used to illustrate tension or discomfort as even the Park household never feels fully lit. This does a great job of growing the tension between characters, be it love, friendship or distrust. The use of light and dark helps illustrate the class divide between the characters as well as the Park house is filmed primarily during the day, while the Kim house is filmed primarily at night. The areas that are darkest is the hidden basement which feels like a horror film in how it shot and it is here where the Climax of the film really begins. This area of the house is filmed in sickly yellows and greens. Hong Kyung-pyo did an amazing job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack like the cinematography keeps you drawn in. There are sharp string instruments used at certain points and most of the soundtrack gives a sense of foreboding and melancholy. This plays into the theme and feel of the film and elevates it. Jeong Jae-il’s composition is absolutely beautiful.

The Characters and Nuance – This is a film that is full of character nuance. Most of the characters are more complicated than they appear to be. The father from the Kim family Ki-taek forms a friendship with the wife of the Park family Yeon-gyo and seems to care about her more than her husband does. The Kim daughter Ki-jeong helps the Park boy Da-song who she is art teacher for to calm down and there are little moments like this between characters scattered through the film. It is beautifully done. I kind of hated most of the characters at first until I noticed that nuance, which makes the con falling apart all the more tragic as everyone in this film suffers or dies in the end when the con comes crashing down.

Deconstructing Class – One of the lines in the film is that the Park family is kind because they are rich. There is truth to this in that they aren’t desperate to live so have formed relationships beyond survival, while the Kim families relationships are entirely based on eating and keeping their house. Why the class structure that exists is never explored but the consequence upon how people behave is. Desperation leads to selfishness and living well off can lead to a level of detachment.

The Ending – The climax starts when the former housekeeper returns after the Kim family is celebrating and drinking while the Park family is away. What we discover is her husband worked for the home’s prior owner and has gone insane. When the con is revealed the former housekeeper after the Kim mother refuses to help. This leads to the housekeeper ending up accidentally killed and her husband breaking out and attacking the Kim son and killing the Kim daughter. Kim Ki-taek kills the houskeeper’s husband and attacks the Park father after the Park father reacts to his “smell,” and escapes. After the Kim son Ki-woo recovers in the hospital he learns that his father survived and is living in the underground area where the housekeeper’s husband had been. He vows to earn money to get the house so that someday his father can be free and the story ends. There is so much that happens and it stays with you.

The Cons:

Backstory and Motivation of the Mothers – I wanted more story on what had brought the Mothers to be in the situations they were in. The con mother Chung-sook used to be an athlete, but we don’t know why she is so harsh on the housekeeper. What drove her to be the meanest of her family? How did Yeon-gyo end up in the relationship with a husband who never admits to loving her? They both love their children and that clearly drives them, but I wanted more on how they came to be in the places they were. I feel like that would have defined more of the choices they make in the film.

This was a film I came to love the more I thought about it. The characters have nuance and humanity to them, even as they do horrible things and in the end there is growth for at least 2 of the family members who did the con as well. This film could have easily just clearly painted one side as wholly bad but it doesn’t. Instead you see what greed and desperation do to people as well as how money changes how people view one another. This is powerful and relevant and the only thing keeping it from getting a higher score is I wanted more backstory from the mothers. They really needed more development for what defined who they were.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

Okja (2017): Where Miyazaki Meets Horror

  “Okja” is a strange and wonderful film. This is a film that starts like a Miyazaki film and ends like horror movie and inbetween tries to political satire and be an all around adventure story. Did it work? Enough to the point that I did enjoy this film and recommend it. Netflix is getting better at putting out quality original work and this is a shining example of a great film of theirs that shows the streaming platform (and often times going cheap) can work for quality original works.

The film was directed by Bong Joon-Ho who co-wrote it along with Jon Ronson.  Bong Joon-Ho also was one of the seven producers on the film. The others were Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Lewis Taewan Kim, Dooho Choi, Seo Woo-Sik and Ted Sarandos.

The story involves the Mirando Corporation sending lab designed super pigs around the world to be raised by farmers in the best Pig Competition, where the winner will be crowned in 10 years. During that time Okja, one of the pigs is raised by Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her Grandfather (Byun Hee-Bong). When the corporation returns and takes Okja Mija goes on a journey to save her friend and fights herself being manipulated by different political factions who want to use Okja to their own ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Flawed Characters and Ego – Most of the minor characters in this are compelling in the ways their egos and drive them and make them flawed. There is Jay the leader of the Animal Liberation Front who believes in consent but ignores it for the overall aims in the end, there is Lucy Miranda who wants to make her company better than it is but not face the darker side of the slaughter house and there is the Grandfather who wants his granddaughter to have success but in the end misses how important Okja is to her. These characters make the narrative interesting.

Magical Realism – Giant Pigs created in a lab transported around the world for a Best Pig competition that will take place 10 years later, and one of them is raised by a little girl in the mountains…it is right out of a Miyazaki film and was part of what made this film so fun. I’ve always loved the fantasy in magical realism and this film captures that really well.

A Critique of Ideology over People – Both the ALF and Mirando Corp don’t care about people, only ideology. We see this in how Lucy’s sister turns on her, on the lying that K and Jay both do to Mija in order to serve their overall goals and in the end the hero of this film has no ideology and just wants to be with her pig Okja. This is the core theme of the piece and from that do good where you can as you are and don’t let ideology consume you.

The Cruelty of Factory Farms – The film is extremely against factory farming and you get to see all the parts of it as the Super Pigs get slaughtered and how their different parts go to the different areas of the supermarket. Mija sees this first hand at the end and it is really well done…this is when the film turns into a horror film as we see it all through Mija’s and Okja’s eyes.

The Cons: The Satire – The Corporation doesn’t feel like it is full of people and the ALF is so disconnected and all over the place that they are hard to take seriously as a force. This really brings down the satire as our villains become a bit too cartoonish, which hurts the satirical argument in play.

This is a flawed film that also manages to just be great. Certain characters feel like caricatures (the Mirando Corporate characters as a whole (except maybe Lucy) and some of the Animal Liberation Front Members) but this didn’t bring down my overall enjoyment film. This film is solidly great and now that I’ve watched this and “Snowpiercer,” I can’t wait to see what director Bong Joon-Ho does next.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Snowpiercer (2013): The Cost of Revolution

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     “Snowpiercer” is one of the better films I’ve seen in the post-apocalyptic genre. It has consequences, high stakes and human characters who are relatable, as well as covering the many ways revolution can be viewed and the cost that comes with it, regardless. I’ll get into more details in the assessment.

    The film was directed by Joon Ho-Bong who was also one of the screenwriters, along with Kelly Masterson. “Snowpiercer” was produced by: Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun, Jeong Tae-sung and Steven Nam.

    The story was based on the graphic Novel Le Transperceniege by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean Marc-Rochett.

     The premise is the near future has brought about an attempt to counter global warming that leads to the world freezing over. The survivors board the Snowpiercer and the story unfolds years later in a world where unequal power dynamic lead to the rich preying off of the poor and using them for labor to sustain the train. From here the story unfolds as the main character Curtis (Chris Evans) plots rebellion with his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt) and second in command Edgar (Jamie Bell). From here the story unfolds as they rebellion ignites.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack does a great job of capturing the tension and the stakes throughout the film. From the first attack to get out of the back of the train…to the moments with the rich in the night club or high society…Marco Beltrami did a great job composing this score.

The Action – Bong Joon-ho knows how to film action and there are a lot of great sequences…from the first fight to get out of the back car, to being stalked in the sauna and the surprise attack the wealthy do on the poor where we learn guns weren’t destroyed and the bullets still exist. The action has purpose too as it drives the characters forward and kills many of them.

The Cinematography – This is a very beautiful movie. A lot of the scenes are cast in shadow which sticks with how dark the theme is. We learn of the evil the wealthy do to the poor and what the poor did to themselves when they first boarded the train. There are no heroes in this world and how the film is filmed captures this stark reality. Hong Kyung-pyo did a good job.

The Characters – There were many good characters in this. I’ll go into depth on who and why.

Mason – Mason is the Minister and primary antagonist until we meet Wilford the religious leader of the train (and the one manipulating everything). Mason is crafty and cowardly and makes a great antagonist. Tilda Swinton makes her weasily and viscous as well as a true believer in Wilford and the Holy Engine. She’s a character I would not have minded sticking around till the end, but she is killed by Curtis in revenge when she facilitates an ambush done by the rich’s thugs.

Tanya – Tanya is the closest we get to a good person as we see her caring for others as well her young son before Wilford’s second takes him away. She fights hard and is there to remind Curtis to keep going on and to lead when he loses his second in command. Her death is powerful for this reason as she never finds her son before she is killed by one of the more powerful thugs in the sauna. Octavia Spencer is wonderful.

Namgoong Minsu – Is one of the addicts who they first rescue who helps them open up the doors to the different cars as long as they provide him with Kronole for his addiction and rescue his daughter as well. He is a compelling character as he notices how the world is changing outside and that the ice melting. He knows they don’t need the train, but because his addiction makes him so selfish he is never listened to. He does make possible his daughters escape as a group attacks and they use the Kronole to make a bomb that destroys the train leaving her and Tanya’s son to find or create a new world. He is compelling character and Kang-ho Song does a good job.

Yona – Yona can see what’s coming which gives her the best bet for surviving at the end. She does manage to survive and rescues Tanya’s son with Curtis as well as getting the chance to hold her father one last time before the bomb goes off. She is an interesting character and I wish we’d gotten more time with her. She’s as smart as her father at hacking the doors. Ah-sung Ko did a great job.

Wilford – The man who accepts the status quo even though it’s unjust and upholds it through terror. Ed Harris makes him personable which makes him all the more frightening. He sees himself as being alone and that all people are expendable. He tries to get Curtis to take his place but fails as Curtis sees through the illusion when Yona arrives and he realizes what he’d become and endorse by being the leader. When the train is destroyed Wilford accepts it and respects those who beat him.

Gilliam – Is the one who worked with Wilford we learn and was using people and rebellions to keep the population balanced. He changes in the end though as he helps Curtis get beyond the halfway mark which leads to him getting killed. John Hurt does an amazing job as the heroic manipulator as we learn he gave his body to the poor to eat so they wouldn’t eat the children anymore. You really get why he’s respected so, which makes the betrayal felt.

Curtis – Chris Evans must be one of the best male actors in Hollywood now…I was impressed. This was “Winter Soldier” level acting and he played the anti-hero role so well. From the reason he trusted Gilliam (his guilt at having eaten people and known the young taste better) and his constant struggle to get his humanity back. He finds it in the end by destroying the unjust system and helping Yona and Tanya’s son escape. His complexity is part of what drives the story as he captures Mason but lets Edgar die in the process.

The Ending – The ending has a point and is all the stronger for it. It takes the corrupt system being destroyed for the children to have a life and it takes leaving the system to create a new one where freedom is found. Bong Joon-ho is truly a great storyteller. You felt the cost of revolution as so many innocents on both sides died even though the victimized poor were in the right.

Okay: Edgar – He’s just an angry rebellious guy. His character doesn’t have much depth but at least adds more dimension to Curtis.

The Thugs – There are a few powerful thugs but none of them really have personality. This I think takes away as we don’t know they serve the system. They are good action moments but they have no personality beyond cruelty.

     This is a movie I’d highly recommend. I want to check out this director’s other work now as the story was unique and powerful and had a point. From the reasons the poor rebelled, from how desperation can ruin the best of people but a single person living by example can change things…as well as the cost of change. It takes so many deaths for the train to finally stop and for people to notice that the train wasn’t needed anymore. Even Curtis misses the fact that the world is melting outside and life is coming back…because for so long the train is all he’s known. It is for this reason Wilford is able to manipulate him so well. Not only does it have a point but the music, characters and story are rich and rewarding. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10