‘Money is an iron. Those creases all get smoothed out by money…’
In Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho’s Best Picture Oscar acceptance speech, he spoke about how viewers must overcome the ‘1 cm barrier’ that is subtitles to discover a whole new world of cinema. While I’ve dabbled in foreign language films – an Oldboy here, an Amelie there – I still haven’t seen anywhere near enough world cinema. Watching Parasite reminded me how important it is to overcome that language barrier…
The Kims are a struggling but close knit family who turn the naivety and hubris of a rich family against them in order to find gainful employment. This being South Korean cinema, things quickly take a turn for the worst – and for the weird.
Firstly, Parasite looks beautiful. Anyone who is familiar with Joon-Ho’s previous work, particularly the wonderful Snowpiercer or the ethereal Okja, will not be unacquainted with the contrasting colour palettes that he utilises so well. Here, the blinding whiteness of the Park family home contrasts with the dreary greyness of the Kim’s underground hovel to devastating effect. Ultimately, Parasite is a film of contrasts. Ostensibly between the rich and the poor but also between gender, age and social attitude. There is a chilling conversation between Dong-Ik -the patriarch of the Park family – and his wife Choi, in which he suggests that the poor carry a certain smell. Something that is hard to place but unpleasant nevertheless. The subtext is both prescient and clear. The rich see the underclass as something mildly disgusting. Something to be treated with a mixture of condescension and contempt.
I have spoken before about my distaste of any kind of art carrying with it an overt political message but the satirical edge at the heart of Parasite is so shocking, so razor sharp, that on this occasion it adds to the story rather than detracting from it. It helps that the entire cast throw themselves into their roles in a way that is at once arresting and unique. The dynamics between the two families are perfectly executed and the moments of levity are handled expertly, particularly by Song Kang-Ho as the head of the Kim family.
Is Parasite a worthy Best Picture winner then? Personally, I’d have gone for 1917 but there is no doubting that both are challenging and compelling realisations of an artistic vision and therefore I’ve got no complaints really. Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for more foreign language films breaking into the mainstream.