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

Art of Fighting (2006): The Reasons to Fight and the Cost

The-Art-Of-Fighting-2006-K-Movie

   We continue “Foreign Film Week” with “The Art of Fighting.” My friend described it as the a the Korean “Karate Kid” with more violence and that is an apt description. It is better than “Karate Kid” in a few ways too. For one it doesn’t idealize fighting, it shows the reasons why someone would fight and what it takes to win a fight. From here we are introduced to the two complex protagonists who drive the story and each of their reasons they choose to fight.

     “Art of Fighting” was directed by Shin Han-sol who was one of the writers along with Min Dong-hyun and produced by Lee Seo-yeol.

     The story is about Byeong (Jae Hee) who is abused by Pako (Hong Seung-jin)and his gang at his technical high school and attempts to fight back only to beat down again and again. When he runs into a strange neighbor named Pan-su (Baek Yoon-sik) who is a fighter and possible ex-gangster who he convinces to train him. From here the story unfolds as his father tracks Pan-su and they deal with the threats from the gangs in the area.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – As someone who loves the soundtrack to fighting games like “Tekken.” There is a techno rhythm to many of the fight scene and montages and it adds a lot to the quality of the film.

The Action – The action is brutal and solid in this film, it reminds me a lot of an early Tarantino or Rodriguez film and it’s extremely raw. For example every fight is mortal and keeps going until a person is finally down. It’s doesn’t romanticize it because of how honest it is on how blood is part of a fight. This is one thing it really does well.

Pan-Su – The strange neighbor is a great character. He only starts training Byeong because Byeong is so insistent and is getting him free stuff. That is how their relationship starts with Byeong paying for all his meals and drinks but things change when Byeong shows how much he’s grown as a fighter and Pan-su has nothing for respect for him at the end realizing that Byeong now knows the cost of fighting (given that Pan-su is nearly killed by Paku and the Police).Baek Yoon-sik is wonderful in this role.

Jae-hoon – Jae-hoon is Byeong’s friends who ends up being killed by Pako because he stands up to Pako when the gang is picking on Byeong. His death is brutal but before that he is a really kind and tough guy who manages to beat one of the bullies a bit before Pako comes in. His death is a tragedy as he is someone just trying to look out for his friend. Park Ki-woong is wonderful in the role.

Byeong-tae – Jae Hee plays the main character in the film who is a man who lives in fear until he loses his best friend and is ready to use all the training Pan-su taught him. It’s a great process to watch and we see he is a stubborn kid who doesn’t give up no matter what he’s put through. He also doesn’t kill, which puts him above Pako and Pan-su. His arc is also reestablishing a relationship with his father which he is finally able to do when he has the confidence and stands up for himself against the bullies.

The Message – The message is that sometimes there is a time to fight (self-defense, defense of another) but you have to know the cost, people die (Jae-hoon) and get hurt (Pan-su) fights are never pretty and should always be a last resort. If you can scare your enemy and cause them to run away, that is what you do. That is one thing I really respected about this film. The message is great.

Okay/Cons – The Cinematography – The cinematography is very hit or miss. At times the camera felt like it was fogged over and things weren’t clear while other times it felt home video like. For this reason it is hard to put it as pro or truly okay since there are some okay filmed moments but other times the poor quality clashes with it.

The Cons: The Bullies and Gangs- The bullies were just thugs (like in “Karate Kid”) and really had no motivation. At least the bully in “Karate Kid” was abused by his mentor and father, the same cannot be said about Pako who is mostly just motivated for revenge since Byeong’s father was the one who put him in prison.

  This was a good film, but not a favorite. I disliked how simple the bullies were and how they weren’t complex at all and at times it lagged because of it because the bullies got so much screen time. I also wish we’d gotten to know Pan-su more as he was the most compelling character in the film. The lack of backstory being fully explored since it was so focused on Byeong made the film good but not great. Byeong’s character wasn’t enough to carry the film to make it a favorite or a great film, still he wasn’t bad so it was good.

Final Score: 8 / 10.

Foreign Film Week

Departures Poster

 

This week we kick off “Foreign Film Week.” When I was looking for requests on facebook for this week it was for films that are not in English. Beyond that I wanted to choose a movie from each country that had it’s own language and was a drama of some sort.

To this end the films that I chose were “Departures” from Japan, “The Art of Fighting” from South Korea, “Farewell my Concubine” from China, “City of God” from Brazil and “The Intouchables” from France.

Depending on my work schedule and time this may stretch into next week for some of the final reviews, but my goal is to finish as much of it before next Monday as I explore each of these films.

So let us begin, the “First Foreign Film Week.” I say the first as I plan on doing weeks like this in the future as well as they give me the chance to explore amazing cinema from around the world.