This article about Parasite was published on the 1st of January 2020.
What separates Bong Joon-Ho from many of his contemporaries is how he understands that the tone of a movie can be distinct from its genre, even completely opposite. He crafts his crowd pleasers with a warped, but totally accurate, understanding of what pleases a crowd. For him, it’s the thrill of a sudden piece of slapstick bursting into an action sequence like a needle through fabric, or a moment when fanciful silliness becomes sweeping tragedy. That’s what made The Host a different kind of monster movie, Mother a different kind of crime movie, and Snowpiercer a different kind of sci-fi movie.
Parasite, his upcoming film arriving in UK cinemas in February, looks to be a different kind of movie altogether. A class warfare drama? Perhaps, but there’s almost certain to be comedy. Outright comedy, meanwhile, also seems unlikely. It’s a fascinatingly unpredictable movie, its only known quantity being how much everyone seems to have loved it. The box office numbers from across the Atlantic have been impressive for a foreign movie, even one by Bong, and it has had a good showing everywhere from a Palme D’Or win to a SAG nomination.
It concerns the working-class Kim family, who find an ingenious way to infiltrate a family at the opposite end of the social ladder, the Parks. They live in a sleek, modernist house, the architecture of which will almost certainly play a role in Bong’s operations. The Kims get a taste of the good life, before unseen circumstances threaten to derail their plans.
A big selling point for the movie should be that, amidst the veritable Oscar buzz around it, there is also a populist edge to the praise. As I said earlier, near-everyone seems to love it. That is no understatement. It had the honour of appearing at the top of the most end-of-year lists at the end of 2019, while also securing rave reviews at publications ranging from The New York Times to The A.V. Club to Den of Geek.
It almost seems like the perfect crossover success, all the more interesting for its status as a Korean film. It’s rare for movies to have even the kind of success achieved by something like Roma last year. Even in that case, Alfonso Cuaron’s movie was a hit with arthouse audiences more than the general public. Parasite’s story has been quite different, earning it the credentials of being as popular with cinephiles and movie buffs as it has been with casual observers.
Its release comes not long before the Oscars, in any case, so it’s sure to have a boost from that. Bong’s status is mainly what’s at stake, however. If Parasite can replicate its American success in the UK, that would finally cement him as a worldwide talent comparable in popularity to names like Almodovar and Von Trier.
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