One of the Sight & Sound list's newest additions, Bong Joon-ho's deftly tells a satirical story of deception and class divisions.
Did anyone else watch the black & white version? Having seen the film a couple of times already I watched that version this time. It's an interesting experience. Overall I prefer the color version and I'm not sure the B&W version was _necessary_, but some images, like the sun hitting the Parks house and especially the shot of Song Kang-ho seething while wearing the Native American headdress, are really striking in B&W.
The question I have for you, Keith, is one that seemed like too much of a sidetrack for our conversation: What's the "harrowing" line in Snowpiercer?
“Know your place. Be a shoe.”
I can't believe neither of you mentioned Jessica's jingle, which is amazing.
The reaction to this Parasite and Snowpiercer annoy me. I think they're both terrific films, but they have a very nuanced take on class relationships and they're decidedly not a proletariat's call to arms (S) or EAT THE RICH (P).
In both films, Bong is sympathetic to the working class, but to a point. In Parasite they're basically vermin. They are manipulative, ignoble and selfish (though we understand why) and happily insinuate themselves into the lives of the rich family as much as they can by whatever means necessary. Their employers are a bit out of touch but by no means bad people who deserve to die. They also have no sympathy whatsoever for their fellow low-class sufferers, which always gets chalked up to "Oh the upper class sows discord among the lower," but I think Bong is noticing more that everyone likes having power over others. Regardless, no question the rich family are the nicest people in the movie.
And then in Snowpiercer, the world in the train was harsh but the balance (a deliberate one, as we learn at the end) kept as many people alive as possible. The revolution upends the balance and kills them all.
I know people will see whatever they want to see in a movie, but Bong's themes are far more complex than a lot of people want to acknowledge.
I have no idea whether this applies to the Academy voters, but at least for some in The Industry (sorry), there’s a very real sense that even if they ended up like the Parks they could have ended up like the Kims—people who did odd jobs who’d still be doing odd jobs without the big break, finding success while very talented people in their acting classes or film school languish. You might live like the Parks, but you can easily imagine being a Kim even if you don’t treat the actual Kims of your life with much empathy.
People of immense privilege investing in politics threaten their privilege is nothing new, either. I don’t know how Engels would react to Parasite—well, the Kims are lumpen, he’d flat-out dislike them (Ki-Woo wanting the house would be indicative of the lumpen lack of class politics)—but I’m curious how he reacted to literature of his own time that criticized his position in a more visceral way, without the “science” of dialectical materialism.
I believe my scream of delight that night of the Academy Awards might have awoken a few of my neighbors. As a Korean American, I can't even tell you how proud I was of this movie and its win. Never did I think it had a chance to win Best Picture, since like everybody else, I thought the international would be its award. I also remember it fondly because it was the last Oscars in the Before Times. I miss the Before Times...
Two things about Parasite:
1) While watching this movie and understanding about 70% of the dialogue without subtitles made me appreciate how lucky I am to understand my native tongue. That letter the son writes to his father at the end is composed in the formal conjugation, full of respect and longing. It makes the juxtaposition between his fantasy (buying the house) and reality (dreaming from their dingy basement apartment) in the final scene that much more heartbreaking.
2) Like many American surnames, the last names of Koreans have meaning. It's ironic that the thieves are the Kims - that last name means gold. The rich folks are the Parks - that means gourd... Which floats quite well in water, in a flood...
Excellent write up. A few thoughts (and spoilers!)
Bong Joon-ho is definitely the Spielberg of this great class of Korean directors, but at this point he seems to have formed a tradesmark verging on cliche where he produces a "perfect girl" and then kills her off in film's climax. This pops up in Mother, Memories of Murder that the victim(s) are not just women but either highly talented or high status. In both The Host and Parasite the eldest daughter is by far the most talented and adept in their families. The former is an Olympic-level athlete, and the latter is shown to be skilled at forgery and is the only family member who doesn't need a training montage to fool the Parks. I groaned in the theater when I realized that once again Joon-ho was going to make a sacrifice of this character. I guess Snowpiercer breaks this trend by having the talented daughter survive to see the credits, but I'd still like to see him drop this trope for a few films.
There was a big cultural appropriation/exchange debate over a planned Americanized, HBO version of the film. Put me in the camp that's enthusiastic for such a thing! So much of Parasite's plot is rooted in Korean culture. I want to see what these things translate to in America. What's our version of the river stone? The art therapist? What's a job that could connect the classes like "English Tutor".
If done well, Parasite could be like "The Office", where the totems change for whatever culture its set in.
Finally, what's the significance of the Park's son's Native American obsession? That one I haven't been able to piece together nor have read any good analysis.
Apologies for being a stickler but I think your foreign-language Best Picture count missed at least Drive My Car and (ugh) All Quiet on the Western Front.
Love this discussion, love this movie, and love Bong. I think I brought up something about Okja and the pitmaster on a recent call to The Next Picture Show...
One detail I love that reinforces Mr Park's obliviousness:
Geun-sae manually turns on the stair lights when Mr Park comes home to honor him, and Mr Park has no idea that Geun-sae exists and almost certainly assumes (if he thinks of it at all) that the lights are automatic. They turn on and he never thinks about it at all.
I don't have much to say on this one - I enjoyed it, but I seem to enjoy it less than other people.
Its presence did make me wonder how many Oscar best picture winners actually showed up in the top 100. Parasite, Moonlight, and The Godfather off the top of my head. Then looking down the list, Casablanca, The Apartment, and possibly Sunrise (I think there's some asterisk with there being two first BP winners. I'm not an Oscars' person nor Oscars' trivia person).
Which I guess means... something.
(Honestly, that was two or three more winners than I was expecting)
To this day, one of my most memorable moviegoing experiences has been seeing this at a film festival and reaching the halfway point. I'd been following it from Cannes and from various screenshots and reviews, I had thought it must've switched into some sort of sci-fi or horror thing (which... it kind of is) and was absolutely NOT expecting anything. funny enough, one of the other memorable viewings was Knives Out at that same festival.
But you guys are totally right on the staging after; I mentioned in a review for my college paper at the time how expertly it rides those multiple sources of tension when the Parks unexpectedly come back. I also think the main reason it works so well is that the Parks themselves are oblivious more than outright villains. Arguably that makes them even worse because the indicators of their poverty are so blatant and yet they choose to ignore it, while everyone ends up fighting each other. Of course it's also just entertaining as hell.
This was an excellent discussion to read. And as much as I enjoyed Parasite (and was happy for its Oscar win), I always thought that Bong's Memories of Murder should've been the one to earn an Oscar nom and potential win since I believe that's his best film, which was kinda ahead of its time. Not to mention that his direction (and the masterful cinematography of it) was peak Bong that established him as an outstanding and visionary filmmaker 20 years ago.