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Anatomy of a Masterpiece: A look into the movie Parasite

Masterpiece; a common word used by many expert critics and casual viewers alike to best describe the film Parasite in one word.

screenshot from the movie

The film Parasite, known in Korean as 기생충, is a dark comedy thriller that premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019. It was later released on South Korean theaters on May 30, 2019 grossing a total of US$20.7 million on its opening weekend. It was directed by Bong Joon Ho, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Han Jin Won. Bong is also the man behind other great films such as Okja, Snowpiercer, The Host and Memories of Murder.

A Quick Run-through of its Achievements

Since its release, the film managed to cement its place in history as it continually received accolades from local and international awarding bodies. It incessantly garnered the “Best Film” on multiple annual awards ceremonies such as AACTA Awards, Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Blue Dragon Film Awards, Baeksang Arts Awards, British Independent Film Awards, Buil Film Awards, Chunsa Film Awards and Korean Association of Film Critics’ Awards, to name a few.

During the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, it won the Palme d’Or, becoming the first Korean film to do so. It also managed to win by a unanimous vote since 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Color. At the 77th Golden Globe Awards, it won the Best Foreign Language Film and was also nominated for two other categories including Best Director and Best Screenplay. During the 73rd British Academy Film Awards it was also nominated for four awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Not in the English Language where it managed to win the last two mentioned. It also became the first non-English Language film to win the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Among its numerous accolades was being nominated at the 92nd Academy Awards for six categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Production Design and Best Film Editing. History was made when they managed to sweep four of these, the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film, making it the first non-English language film in Oscar history to win the award for Best Picture. Bong Joon Ho won four out of his six nominations, tying Walt Disney’s record in 1953 for having the most wins in a single night.

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What is it about?

In a nutshell, the film is about a poor family who scams their way to work inside a rich family household but their seemingly perfect plan suddenly went wrong so they had to deal with its dire consequences.  But in a more detailed narrative of the film, the movie starts with the Kim family with father Kitaek (Song Kang Ho) with his wife Chungsook (Jang Hye Jin), his son Kiwoo (Choi Woo Shik) and daughter Kijung (Park So Dam). Their family belongs to the lower class of the South Korean society, living in a semi-basement house while trying to get by taking odd jobs like folding pizza boxes for a living.

Their fate changes however, when Kiwoo’s friend, Minhyuk (Park Seo Jun) convinced him to replace him as a private tutor for a wealthy high school girl named Park Dahye. Kiwoo then poses as “Kevin” and meets his new employer. After seeing that the mother, Yeongyo (Cho Yeo Jeong) is a naively gullible lady, a plan started to take shape in his mind. He first made his sister Kijung to pretend as “Jessica”, a friend that can take on the job as an art teacher for the Park’s youngest son, Dasong (Jung Hyeon Jun). Kijung then frames the driver of Mr. Park (Lee Sun Kyun) and managed to make her father the new family driver.

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screenshot from the movie

Later on, their plan was completed after their mother finally gets the job as the new housekeeper. Everything seemed to be going all according to their plan. But chaos ensues when the existence of the previous housekeeper Moongwang’s (Lee Jung Eun) husband Geunsae (Park Myung Hoon) living at the house’s secret underground bunker was revealed and spoils everything that the Kim’s have been working on.

Let’s get a bit technical…

Plot Complexity

If you try to make someone explain the plot of the movie in a nutshell, they would probably say that “it’s about social class”. Probably one of the main charms of the movie is the fact that it is so rich in all technical aspects that any movie enthusiast would love analyzing every bit of it.

A lot of have been already written about its complexity as a movie. From the ingenious plot that can be perfectly described as a dark comedy. It’s a film that switches from comedy to thriller in a minute. A story where the protagonists are hanging at the borderline with the antagonists as they are not really assigned a specific role. It’s a comedy without clowns and a horror without ghosts. It’s just three different family living their lives.

The narrative tone of the film is also something worth all the awards. The ‘comedy’ that the first half provided carefully developed, with the tension rising bit by bit until it finally erupted in the chaos of the climax before slowly receding to the film’s resolution that slaps all the viewers with the harsh reality.

To better explain the things above, here is video doing it for you:

Creativity Overload

A lot of film professionals have already dissected the film in terms of dialogues, character developments, casting, set design, visual design, use of colors, camera techniques, mood, tone, symbolisms, costumes and etc.

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One overarching statement is the film being all about “elevation”. From the Park’s house being a multi-level luxury house located on top of a slope, the Kim’s house being a semi-basement at the bottom of a narrow street and to the housekeeper and her incognito husband literally living underground. It was pointed out by a lot that the rain represents the inequality that the world has but can’t do about.

screenshot from the movie
screenshot from the movie

Instead of explaining each and every one of these things, you can watch the videos below to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of what the film has to offer beyond what we see at the surface level.

In conclusion…

Director Bong Joon Ho’s fascination with the use of social class in his films have let him create social commentary film masterpieces such as Parasite (2019) and Snowpiercer (2013).

It’s also a well-known fact that even the director says that the ending sequence of the movie is nothing but a fantasy. Despite all the intricacies involved in all the aspect of the film, it really takes a master such as Bong Joon Ho to still manage to get the film’s message across.

You can watch the video below to know his full explanation.

With the theme of class inequality being a universal concept, anyone will probably agree that watching Parasite is a great experience. The message that the film wanted to tell us will keep ringing in our memories even after the film’s end credits. As we all know, the hard reality that one will see throughout the film will still remain as the actual plot of our daily lives but this time; we are the main characters.

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