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Upstairs/downstairs: the microcosmic class conflict of Parasite

The world is divided into the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the upper class and the lower class. If you haven't seen the multiple Oscar-winning film Parasite, what's stopping you?
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REVIEW

Parasite

Stars: 5.0

Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun, Myeong-hoon Park, Ji-so Jung, and Chang Hyae-jin

Directed by Bong Joon Ho

Written by Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han

Rated: 14A for violence, substance use, and coarse language

Runtime: 132 minutes

A special return engagement screening will take place at Metro Cinema on Feb. 25. metrocinema.org

The world is divided into the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the upper class and the lower class. Nowhere is this depicted so joint literally and metaphorically as in South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s newest film Parasite, newly released on DVD just in time for the Oscar season.

In case you haven’t heard, it received a lot of praise and glory from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. It also won the Palme d’Or prize at last year’s Cannes Film Fest and the Best Foreign Language Motion Picture at the Golden Globes, as well as the Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Not in the English Language at the BAFTA Awards. I could go on but there’s no need. It’s a film everyone needs to see for themselves.

The film is as polished and densely plotted a work as any Wes Anderson flick but with a decidedly un-North American sensibility. It does take some getting used to, and your first viewing might require some mental stretching to abide its pace and more, but it will remain with you once you’re done. As my beautiful wife said with no sense of glibness for the double entendre, “Parasite really sticks with you.” Indeed. The story should resonate no matter what height of the class structure you’re clinging to.

The story tracks the marvelously ingenious Kim family who lives in a below-ground slum apartment suite. They strive to rise up by using all of the tricks that their collective smarts can muster and with as much savvy. Fortune first favours the son Ki-woo who gets the chance to be a tutor for Da-hye, the similarly-aged daughter of the very well-to-do Park family. The Parks have a mansion whose architectural grandeur and live-in servant suit the family well, but there is a secret waiting to emerge that can disrupt everything and ruin everyone involved.

Through wits and subtle manipulations, eventually all of the Kims become key employees to the Parks. Watching the family of four working their magic is so much fun that one wishes it might go on forever, like a modern version of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying where the focus is instead on socioeconomic systems and class structures and mechanisms. The viewer easily imagines the Kims taking their machinations all the way to the point of even taking over the Parks’ lives entirely, their aptitude for assuming personas seems so abundant. The fortunes of the poor are turned on its head by sheer dint of will and wizened wisdom.

The pace and tone of Parasite is what deceives the audience. We are led as much by the ease and comfort slowly transitioning from one family to the next that it becomes a pacifier. We are lulled by it, wooed by it. These are our protagonists: the heroes who overcome invisible obstacles using a sophisticated intelligence. Of course, we all know the title of the film so there is always the thought in the back of our heads of what might shift things. All it takes is one dark and stormy night for the class shift dark comedy to become a tense, nightmarish duel to the death. Once that psychological shift is upon us, the viewer is trapped on the ride, never knowing how badly things are going to go until they do. Without giving too much away, you can rest assured that they do. After all, this is from Bong Joon-ho who also brought the taut and smart sci-fi thinkers The Host and Snowpiercer. He subverts genres but only by improving on them.

He does this easily with his exceptional writing and outstanding, note perfect ensemble casts. There is much to be said about this auteur’s unique voice and cinematic finesse. I find myself as appreciative of his works as I am by those of P.T. Anderson, Ruben Östlund, Andrey Zvyagintsev, and Lars von Trier. These names all offer us intellectual wonders that still make for robustly pleasurable cinematic experiences.

The only detractor that I could think of was that it went on a bit too long for the story’s purpose, perhaps only 10 minutes. I’ll just leave this armchair critic’s editing at that.

Parasite is now available on 4K Ultra Digital HD as well as on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and Neon. The disc includes a bonus Q&A feature with Bong Joon-ho. The director takes us behind the scenes, even offering his explanation for including the film’s sex scene. It’s a brief scene but very memorable and probably one that will incite highly conflicting reactions simultaneously in audience members.


Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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