Director: Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo, Woo-sik Choi, Hye-jin Jang, So-dam Park, Hyun-jun Jung, Ji-so Jung, Jeong-eun Lee
This could be, perhaps, a statement that would have many experienced filmgoers raising the eyebrows and sneering, but I honestly feel that, outside of the big Hollywood machine, South Korea is currently the country producing the strongest, most daring and outright best cinema in the world. Chan-wook Park has been delivering for years (his latest, The Handmaiden, may very well be one of the greatest films of our current decade), Chang-dong Lee recently came out on fire (ahem… Burning), and others like Jee-woon Kim, Sang-ho Yeon and Hong-jin Na have contributed with absolute classics this decade in the form of I Saw The Devil, Train to Busan and The Wailing, respectively.
Joon-ho Bong, the director of Parasite, has been a figurehead of South-Korean cinema for quite a while now. Films such as Memories of a Murder (an absolutely mandatory piece of cinema), The Host and Mother gathered the director much acclaim, and then, like Chan-wook Park did with Stoker, Bong decided to give English-language films a try, with Snowpiercer and Okja. Now, ten years later, the director returns to his native language for Parasite: a film that would be the cherry on top of the cake of his oeuvre, if the cherry was even tastier than the cake itself.
And yes, that was my way of saying that Parasite may very well be Joon-ho Bong’s crowning achievement. I had the privilege of watching the film’s preview last night, a few days before it officially comes out, a during a little over two hours I felt that I was being masterfully led through a film where nothing was left to chance and almost nothing in it could have been done better.
While normally I would include a small synopsis of the plot in a review like this, I do not want to, for once. And the reason why is that I went into this film knowing very little about it, other than who the director was. By doing so, I was caught by its gripping plot, absolute control over mood and pace, masterful performances all across the board and evocative score. But above all, it was the film’s script, co-written by the director, that most floored me: it is a script where no word or action is wasted and nearly everything serves a purpose. By way of the acting and characterization, the characters feel human and relatable, both at their most cunning and at their ugliest. The script is also written in a way that does not allow you to fully guess what is coming next, but once it does, the moment or sequence doesn’t feel unearned and always makes sense, whether from a character, thematic or metaphorical standpoint.
It is no surprise, then, that Parasite was the winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and it would most definitely deserve to be the flagship foreign-language film at the next edition of the Oscars, much like in the same way Roma was in the last edition. It is only a shame that not much more can be revealed in this review, but please believe me when I say that your enjoyment and process of discovery of this film are more important than instantly satisfied curiosity. If anything, the purpose of the text is to make you more curious. And do not wait for this one to be available in some streaming platform: watch it in the cinema, where it deserves to be appreciated.
I find it likely that Parasite will, in time, be held as a South-Korean classic, and perhaps one of the best films of the 2010’s. Only time will tell, but after what I witnessed last night, I think that is a safe bet.