The first half of the year was a weird one for movies. Nothing was utterly horrible. For all the hate it gets, Dark Phoenix is too mediocre to be awful. The Kitchen does just about everything wrong and still manages to be leagues above stinkers like 2018’s Truth or Dare. On the other side of the token, good movies have failed to hold up to long term scrutiny. Blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame were fun at the time, but who cares now?
Some of this can be attributed to the number of movies available to audiences today. From nationwide theater releases to streaming services at home, there is a whole lot to see. That can only account for so much, however. Fans still lovingly looking back on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The franchise has managed to withstand changes to how people view movies and time.
A more likely explanation is the best movies were coming out towards the back end of the calendar. Parasite from director Bong Joon-ho further cements this theory. Though it was released in South Korea in the spring, it is a new release in the United States. (The world premiere was actually at the Cannes Film Festival where it became the first Korean film to win the prestigious Palme d’Or.) Funny and tense, the movie can make a strong argument for being the best of 2019.
Parasite centers on two very different families. Kim Ki-taek lives with his wife and two children in a semi basement apartment. They are forced to take on jobs like folding pizza boxes in order to survive. Things change when Ki-taek’s son Ki-woo is given the opportunity to tutor the daughter of the wealthy Park family. The Parks live in a beautiful home. They are able to get anything they need with a phone call and struggle very little. The chance meeting leads to an interesting relationship that is symbiotic and painful to watch.
The acting in the movie is superb. Lee Sun-kyun is stellar as Mrs. Park. When he first learns about Mrs. Park, Ki-woon is told by his friend she is simple. Lee plays the role perfectly. She is so concerned about everything that the slightest suggestion will stir her worst fears. It is almost too easy to manipulate her. Lee makes each action seem plausible thanks to her mannerisms and the look in her eyes. She may be “simple”, but she is also a trusting and kind person who worries about her family.
Park So-dam also does a wonderful job as Kim Ki-Jung, the daughter of the impoverished family. She is stunning in the role. Remorseless, and intelligent, she is the closest thing Parasite has to a villain. Though she may have the characteristics, she never actually comes off as a bad person. More shrewd than evil, more resourceful than mean spirited, Ki-Jung is a walking commentary about the results of society’s accepted divisions.
This is where Parasite truly shines. As diverse as his portfolio may be, Bong’s works have always touched on the class divide. It is no surprise that it is seen in his latest film. What will catch audiences off guard is how powerful the movie is. Tales that touch on the differences between the haves and the have nots are as old as storytelling itself. Parasite takes a familiar concept and still manages to leave the audience in a state of shock.
The plot forces those who watch to ask many questions. What it lusts for is obvious, but what is the nature of the parasitic beast? How deeply has it infected the families? How has it affected us? In a way, Parasite is much like the real world. It tries to distract using techniques like laughter – and it nearly succeeds. This is one of Bong’s funniest movies. But through it all, the film is filled with subtle and overt comments and mannerisms that constantly remind the person watching of the human drama unfolding before them.
Parasite is the best written film of the year. It follows the traditional structure of opening, rising action, peak, then ending. This is a movie that can be written down on a chart. Through this classic storytellng it never loses the audience. As the story progresses, both families become more interesting. Each word spoken, every twist revealed is done artfully. The third act goes through a tonal change in which the movie never loses its sense of humor, it poignant commentary, or the sheer moment to moment tension.
Plenty of movies stay with the audience after the final credits have rolled. Memorable lines and scenes are fondly remembered. Tough questions will linger in the mind of the viewer. Over time, the questions may remain unanswered, but they are thought about less. Those moments that were loved so much become misquoted. Parasite is not one of those movies. It will remain by feeding off your questions, theories, and fears. Parasite is the measuring stick for movies this year.