Why Bong Joon Ho's Parasite rises beyond the subtitle barrier
In Parasite, director Bong Joon Ho makes the South Korean society see itself in a mirror, under a harsh white light.
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It is not easy to watch a film in a tongue so foreign that without subtitles, your understanding is zero. Not Parasite. Filmmaker Bong Joon Ho has ensured that in his 134-minute film. If you have the language barrier and take your eyes off the screen for a fraction of a second, you have missed something you will regret. So fine is Joon Ho's craft that you don't have the liberty to let your attention waver for a wayward minute.
Class, society, oppression. And rage. And all of it, disguised as dark humour. Parasite breaks for intermission at a point when everyone is laughing, the sun is shining bright on a family of four and life is looking up. Everyone is happy. After the break, just as you sit back in your seat, a tub of popcorn in hand and sipping from a glass of cola, boom.
The commode is bursting at the seams. They put the lid on, and sit on it, scrolling on the phone. (Photo: Still from Parasite)
The screen has turned dark. The clouds in the sky are menacing. Scene 1, you crack a nervous laugh. Are you even supposed to laugh at this point? Okay, let's see how the next scenes pan out. The next scenes are pure chaos. You're still wondering whether to suppress that laugh. Because hey, a flooded home isn't quite funny, right? But the film has promised you comedy and lots of it all through the first half. The commode is bursting at the seams. There's a constant gust of filthy water trying to get out. The girl puts the lid on, and sits on it, scrolling on her phone. We know some unsuspecting cafe's free WiFi gets the best reception in that corner of this squalid semi-basement home of the Kims.
For several weeks now, the Kim family has gotten used to the luxury and lifestyle of the Parks. The Parks live in an architect-designed bungalow. There is a flight of stairs that goes up from the road to their house. The Kims climb up these stairs to reach this proverbial heaven of freedom from their home in the basement, where you need to climb down a flight of stairs to get to. The stairs are just one motif in this wonderfully layered film.
Bong Joon Ho takes his time to welcome you into this world of contrasts. This world, where watching the sky from your own house is a luxury that not all can afford. The differences are stark between the Kims and the Parks. It is the difference in the smell of the subway and the fragrance of a Benz. It is the difference between enjoying the rain and seeing your home drown in it. It is the difference between collars blue and white. It is also the difference between being the parasite and the host. Of having a plan and pretending to have one.
You know what is the best plan? None at all. Because it can never go wrong.
Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite is kind of like Kim Ki-taek's words. The film doesn't follow a plan. Right when you start sinking into the luxury of your recliner, you are whacked out of it.
Director Bong Joon Ho nominated Best Director for Parasite at the 92nd Academy Awards. (Photo: Reuters)
At its centre, Parasite is a dark comedy. There are social commentaries packed in so seamlessly that you never feel cheated. Everything is woven in with the necessary subtlety. Joon Ho holds back when he needs to, and lets go when the story demands so. The story is deceptively simple on the surface. A family of four find ways to get themselves employed at a rich man's home, a family of four this too, and try to rise above the deal that Fate has dealt them. The process is hilarious. Once they are settled in snug, things start unravelling.
The South Korean society sees itself in a mirror, under a harsh white light, in Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. Loan sharks, dingy basement flats meet bubble baths and Indian-themed birthday parties here. And under all that, you see a brilliant piece of cinema. With subtitles.