(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Parasite (2019)
One Sentence Plot Summary: A lower class family infiltrates a rich family, but little do they know there’s a surprise waiting in the basement that isn’t a monster but rather an allegory for class warfare.
Why It’s on the List: I remember seeing this in theaters during the long long ago of October 2019 and being blown away. I only wish I could have seen it in a more crowded theater. This was like Hitchcock movie mixed in with a screwball comedy and just enough family drama. Incredibly, this is not my favorite film of 2019, but to know this is the Best Picture of 2019 gives me a lot of joy. Incredibly, Bong Joon-Ho’s parade of speeches came in this calendar year.
This movie is going to be regarded as a masterpiece, not because it’s the first non-English speaking film to win Best Picture but because of its universal discussions on class and late stage capitalism. A lower class family struggles to make it in the world to the point they can’t even afford wi-fi and live in what amounts to a basement. What I appreciate most is the family loves each other. So many movies fall into the trope of having parents and one or both of the children are fail sons/daughters. Here, it is the son and daughter who are resourceful. The father is a bit of a buffoon but he has a lot of pathos of his own with a huge monologue just before the third act and in the final letter to his son. I almost wish we could have seen Ki-jung and Ki-woo interact with the respective Kim children more, but this is a masterclass of set-up and payoff. We see the entire house and have the geography laid out multiple times. The first hour is watching one class basically infiltrate another…and then Lee Jung-eun says she forgot something in the basement, and the movie turns into anarchy.
Joon-Ho is really good at incorporating violence, and there are some truly violent actions and moments. A surprising amount of blood is shed in the second hour. What makes this movie is work are the relationships and character interactions. I love that this movie feels small in so many ways but has so much to say about how important thinking about class is. Because of our capitalist system, you rarely see movies this directly address. I hope when things open up that we can see class addressed in important ways because although Parasite can be universal, I think there are some American issues (racial, political, and otherwise) that need to be addressed better in cinema.
*If there was, I missed it. Admittedly, some things can get lost in translation.
MVP: Parasite wasn’t Bong Joon-Ho’s first movie. It’s not even a sophomore effort or an early notable work. It’s not even his first notable movie that crossed over into the American zeitgeist. That was Snowpiercer, a great movie in its own right. Parasite was Joon-Ho’s arrival onto the big stage as he had a historic night at the Oscars. He completed a trifecta of screenplay, director, and picture. Not only did he win these awards, but he (and his translator/aspiring filmmaker in her own right Sharon Choi) was incredibly charming and gained popularity for his manner and speeches. I don’t know what the rest of his career is going to look like, but he has elevated Korean cinema and will be a huge force of good for moviemaking in the next decade.
Best Performance: This is a movie dependent not just on one person but the entire cast. Everyone in the ensemble has to deliver based on the construction of the story. Even the younger actors (the older teens in the Kim family and slightly younger actors in the Park family) have to function in their roles. Song Kang-ho has gotten a lot of attention since he’s been in a number of Bong Joon-Ho films, but Cho Yeon-gyo is excellent as the clueless matriarch of the Park family. Her facial expressions and the casual aloofness are tremendous and a nice subtle way of representing this rich family. Park so-dam is probably remembered for the song she takes before entering the Park’s house for the first time, but she’s got a great attitude throughout. I abhor smoking, but her in the internet café with a cigarette dangling was a great boss moment. I could go on, but the point is I’m copping out and giving the entire ensemble this award.
Best Quote: You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned. – Ki-taek
Is there a sequel? There’s apparently going to be an American remake series on HBO, and my confidence level is very low given how the Snowpiercer television show turned out.
Follow Jerome on Twitter, and check out Reel Bad, The Superhero Pantheon and his new podcast Pantheon Plus.