This Oscar-nominated South Korean dark comedy tells the story of the Kim family. It all begins when the son, Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-Sik) is approached by his friend who's hoping he'll take over tutoring a rich girl he likes. He trusts Ki-Woo not to steal her out from under him, and doesn't care that he technically isn't qualified to tutor. Ki-Woo's sister Ki-Jung (Park So-Dam) forges university papers for him and he's off. But the rich mother also has a son who she considers a budding artistic genius. Ki-Woo sees an opportunity for his sister to get in on the enterprise too, and soon she has become a "prodigious art teacher." The next steps are to get their also unemployed father (Song Kang-Ho) and mother (Chang Hyae-Jin) into the household, but that may take more than some white lies and the slope keeps getting slipperier...
|The Kim family! Pleasant, charming, devious, criminal.|
The big appeal of this story is how unique it is. A poor family that literally lives halfway underground in a cramped and stink-bug infested home, slowly and steadily infiltrating a rich home that sits high up on a picturesque hill. While they're on top of the world, the Kims talk of living in the house as theirs -- and in a way they do. And when they're low, they're literally existing in the gutter with sewage surrounding them. It's fascinating to watch their plans and schemes unfold, especially because plans never go the way they're planned to. The plot is like watching a slow-spiraling plane crash and a beautiful rocket launch at the same time.
Bong Joon-Ho of Snowpiercer fame is the writer/director, and his craftsmanship is tight and full of unique style. He excels at creating unprecedented situations and placing characters into them that are interesting and different so as the navigate the situations in an entertaining and unique way. Here I especially liked the family dynamic, where they all just kind of accept the criminality of the scheme from the get-go, and work together like gears in a clock to get it all done. Bong creates instances of darkness and comedy that exist together perfectly. There's moments of joy, tragedy, horror, and thoughtful fascination. The look of it is rich and sticks with you. It's all-around a beautifully crafted piece.
|But a well-crafted film doesn't equal a universally great film on its own.|
And yet, despite all this, I didn't love the movie. I was entertained, amused, horrified, and fascinated by it, but I could never cross the threshold into love. I've thought about why, and have concluded that I couldn't care about the story and characters in the way I need to in order to love a story. And it's not because the characters are bad people, per se -- that makes investment harder but isn't a deal-breaker for me. This movie asks its audience to sympathize with the Kim family, and I could. Especially Ki-Woo, who participates the least in the wrongdoing and who the story somewhat centers around. He has a naive hopefulness to him that invites pity more than blame. And you do feel for the situation the family begins in. They are poor, but talented, and have grand aspirations. What's not to sympathize with?
However, in their pursuit of riches and comfort, they bulldoze anyone in their way -- not only their elite targets. It's also worth mentioning that the rich Park family are not bad people. They're aloof and careless in how they deal with people, but never "cross the line," as it were, into law-breaking. And the Kim family are equally as careless of anyone not a part of their clan. So I found it hard to root for them, as their redeeming qualities dwindle over time. I don't think the film needed me to root for them, but without the investment that caring for characters brings, the impact of the film's later events is severely lessened. They're merely interesting, which the movie always was. There's no switch in which I became engaged on a personal level -- something vital for me to care about a film, if not to appreciate or admire it.
|We all feel inferior from time to time. We all get that sense that people can smell that which we want to hide. Most of us already know that it's no excuse.|
It frustrates me the more I think of it, because with the right tweaks I could have easily invested -- but I'm beginning to doubt that's what the film wanted at all. Ki-Woo is who we understand best, but once Ki-Jung enters the house, she overshadows him completely. She's that kind of person -- fascinating, and captivating to watch, but fake. We never know her. We know the father, Ki-Taek, and once he comes along he overshadows both the kids, but his motivations never sat well with me. I wanted to understand the kids better, but we never get a real chance, and by the end I didn't know any of them well enough to care what happened to them. Being hard up is not a character trait. It's a circumstance; and one that isn't automatically deep enough to forge a connection that would inspire me to look past certain behaviors.
So in the end, interesting is all it could ever be for me. For other people it was more, and I can see why. I want to mention that, because perhaps you reading this may be one of those people. Or maybe you're the sort of person why doesn't need to care about a film's characters in order to love the film itself. Either way, if you love dark comedy that is both rich with seriousness and light with wit, and if you like to see a unique plot unfold that you've never seen before, Parasite may be well worth your time, and your riches -- such as they are.