Sunday, 16 February 2020
2019 USA Directed by Bong Joon Ho
UK cinema release print.
I really loved Bong Joon Ho’s giant monster movie The Host back in 2006 but that’s the only movie I’ve previously seen by this director (okay, I have a Blu Ray of his post-apolcalyptic sci fi thriller Snowpiercer on order so expect a review of that one sometime this year). I was therefore initially very interested in seeing his new movie with the title Parasite, which I assumed from the title was returning to similar territory as The Host. So when I went to see this at the cinema I went in totally blind. I didn’t catch a trailer and knew pretty much nothing about it.
My first rumblings that this possibly might be a disappointment was when it won both the the Best Foreign Picture and Best Picture double at the Oscars. I really hate awards ceremonies, especially the Oscars but, they have had a few decent picks in the last ten years, occasionally awarding, perhaps more by luck than anything like effective critical judgement, some truly deserving films such as The Shape Of Water, Spotlight and Birdman. For the most part, though, the Oscars tend to award well made pieces of mediocrity with not much thinking required from the audience. When my friend Chris phoned me and told me Parasite was not half as clever as it thinks it is... it kinda set me up for there to be some kind of twist ending... he obviously didn’t like the film all that much and he’s usually all into the kinds of films that win those kinds of awards.
Alas, Parasite falls well into the “well made pieces of mediocrity with not much thinking required” category of movie. That’s not to say it’s a bad film... just kinda unremarkable which, for me, can sometimes be worse (because I can enjoy the odd bad movie more than a bland one). Also, I don’t know where the idea that it has any kind of surprises or twist endings comes from because, frankly, there are absolutely no surprises or even dramatic reveals that I could find in this film. It pretty much telegraphs itself from the start and almost, with the music in certain sections, announces itself long before something is going to happen.
But lets concentrate on the good stuff. Great acting from a cast of people with familiar faces, some of them who have worked with the director previously on films like as The Host, such as the ‘poor family father’ played by Kim Ki-taek and some really great direction. This is a well made movie, no doubt about it... just as The Host was. There are some beautiful shot designs too and I especially liked when the ‘poor family son’ approached the gate of his future employer’s house for the first time... the door and all the surrounding areas are made up of a plethora of vertical strips which he places the actor in and then, when the gate opens for him, he is framed against yet another vertical strip. So stuff like this is nice.
On the down side, the parasites in the movie... which are actually pretty much all the adults in the film, rich and poor alike (especially the rich)... are unable to recognise the difference in each other’s situations and this film is pretty much just about the class divides and the antagonism this creates. Which to me was just baffling as something worthy of exploration to this degree these days. It’s a given that there are horrible, unending divides created by affluence and poverty and nobody likes it but... I dunno, why are we still talking about this? It exists and honestly is not something we’ll be able to change unless we reach a proper money-less (not the same as cashless) society. So I found it kinda disappointing that someone who is obviously a highly skilled and artistically creative director such as Bong Joon Ho is making light weight Oscar-bait such as this.
Now, I did recognise a couple of strong similarities to The Host but, since I’ve only seen that one film other than this by this writer/director, I’m not sure if these are signatures or just coincidences.
‘Thing one’ was the introduction of archery into the story. Only minor in this but the bows and arrows of the ‘rich son’ were definitely something the director chose to focus on... and archery was, of course, a major character set up for a finale piece in The Host.
The other thing is the writer’s clear penchant for showing us the strength of the family unit. It was the underlying and certainly not subtle strength of the family in The Host and it’s certainly a dominant theme which comes across in all the families depicted in this movie. The way the family unit will work together in total harmony to achieve their goals is something which is a definite theme in these two movies and I am interested in seeing if this idea is pushed in any of the director’s other works.
And that’s me just about done on Parasite. This is a well oiled machine that is ultimately an elevated piece of fluff which doesn’t require you to think at all... just like the Oscar voters tend to like, it seems to me. Strong acting, direction throughout and I even liked the soundtrack, even if it is complicit in taking away any surprise from the story... it’s just overall never really a great movie, just a nicely put together one. In fact, it gets a bit dull at times, it has to be said. Not something I’d ever need to see again (whereas I could probably watch The Host every ten years or so). If you want to go see a well made film at the cinema then this is certainly something you should consider... just don’t go expecting to be surprised.