Reviewed Jan 30, 2020
NO SPOILERS AHEAD
Right now, matched with India, my favorite foreign land for cinema is Korea. When it comes to dark comedic thrillers, Korean cinema in one year releases more originality than Hollywood could hope to churn out in a lustrum. And from that enchanting land, Bong Joon-ho, one of the country’s most celebrated directors, has a series of incredible films under his belt, several of which I have had the pleasure of viewing.
First, The Host (2006) was a different take on B-grade 1950s style monster movies, where sludge which is radiocative, toxic and vile, creates a creature feature wreaking havoc on Tokyo…er, Seoul. This is the biggest money-making movie in S. Korean history, and did very well for a short run here in the States. Just a few months after seeing The Host, a pal recommended Snowpiercer (2013), which has a ridiculous premise: all of humanity is on a train which travels around the planet, taking 1 year for each circumnavigation. My response: WTF? But my pal was right on, and Snowpiercer is brilliant; full of deep social commentary and a (rather) believable train system isolated and self-perpetuating for humanity’s long haul through a frozen world. Oh, and it stars Captain America.
Now Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has crawled into theaters, and instead of creating sci-fi or mild horror, he has fully immersed himself in the dark comedy and dramatic thriller themes, accentuated by several horrifying moments. Without giving anything away, a stroke of luck for a young man who should have been in college turns out to be, one-by-one, a stroke of luck for his sister, father and then mother. The whole family slyly takes over the important roles — tutors, driver and cook — of a credulous family of very wealthy snobs with their single-family enclave home built by a famous architect. Yet the home has secrets, and we see that the wealthy family’s beaming innocence means they pass over crazy enigmas by, for instance, not even investigating what they call faulty wiring. Since it doesn’t directly effect the shallow parents, these non-normal problems in the home hide sinister slumberings beneath the modern veneer.
At just the point where I began to ask myself where this film is going, a doorbell rings, and within moments all craziness breaks out, with around 30 minutes of close calls and comedic visualizations bested only by Roman Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Briefly, calm returns to the cast before the corkscrew ending, a bizarre sequence of uptight calumnies, 3 murders, a newsworthy missing person story, and an adventure in the value of being a Cub Scout.
Blending comedy and wound-up suspense is difficult for filmmakers to master, but Joon-ho is obviously a meticulous crafter; blending here is balanced and feels natural. His well designed photographic sequences make for a blend of vibrancy and subtlety, each where needed. The meticulousness of the film includes the fantastic home in the movie being built from scratch, entirely designed and built just for this flick.
The day it comes to Blu-ray or streaming, I will once again be visiting Korea. And once again I will have one of its most brilliant filmmakers as my guide.