Anyone Seen Parasite?
7 December 2019
9 December 2019
Watched it twice on the plane…. reminded me of Kurosawa’s “High & Low”, but the twist ending was more Hitchcockian….great movie
14 December 2019
I forgot another connection with Kurosawa: Bong Joon Ho storyboards his movies.
In a very general sense, it also reminds me of High and Low, although it’s different in showing the so-called lower class characters stepping on each other to survive in addition to conflict with the upper classes.
19 December 2019
I had not even heard of the film, but with your recommendations and after watching the trailer, I’m definitely intrigued!
20 December 2019
It’s almost all anyone can talk about here, it seems, seeing that not only is it expected to be South Korea’s first film nominated for a Best International Film Oscar (formerly Best Foreign Film, and yes, you read that right; no South Korean films have ever been nominated) and to win (it’s considered a shoo-in), it is widely expected to be nominated in other categories, seeing as it has been nominated and won in other categories in film competitions in the US (Best Picture, LA Critics; Best Supporting Actor, LA Critics, etc.) Director Bong Joon Ho has been interviewed all over the place, including by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show.
One of the top musical acts in the US market is a South Korean group (BTS, three #1 albums on the Billboard 200 in 11 months, fastest since the Beatles issued retrospective albums in the 1990s). Why can’t a South Korean film achieve the same kind of stature?
Vili, I hope you do see it. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts, and I think you would enjoy it.
20 December 2019
Its not released here for a month, but I saw it on a long distance flight when my body clock said it was about 2am (hardly ideal viewing) but I loved it, it very much deserves all the rave reviews. Bong I think is one of the most skilled directors in the world when it comes to the basics of blocking and editing – he puts so much activity and information into each scene. I’ve loved his earlier films – especially The Host, Memories of Murder and Mother – all share the same characteristic of brilliant blocking and staging.
I do think there is something very Kurosawa-like in the way he blocks his scenes and uses camera movement and editing in harmony. The film did remind me of High and Low and I could not help thinking there was a deliberate visual connection with the constant depiction of the view from the huge modernist picture window of the main house – in Parasites case, the view is of a perfectly formed symmetrical garden rather than the city view of High and Low. The constant repetition of the difference between the rich being ‘on high’ and the rest of use ‘low’ by way of camera angles and framing is very similar. But as with AK’s film the storyline keeps rejecting a simplistic interpretation (one character even repeatedly describes things as ‘so metaphorical!’, when its clearly not – I assume this is an in-joke. One of the best essays on it I’ve read is in Jacobin, which I think gives a pretty good overview of the underlying theme.
Anyway, I can’t wait to see it properly on the big screen as soon as it gets here. I’d strongly recommend anyone to go see it. And you might find it hard to get Jessica’s jingle song out of your head.
21 December 2019
The Guardian listed it as #1 in its list of the best 50 movies in the US in 2019. The delayed opening in the UK explains why it’s not on its best 50 movies in the UK list.
22 December 2019
Just one little post comment-comment. I was looking through a few youtube analyses of the film (it seems particularly fertile ground for cinema studies teachers) and the more I see it, the more I’m sure Boon studied High and Low before making it – not so much in terms of structure and composition. There is even a close analogue for the final scene in High and Low where we see the main characters faces reflected in glass as they ponder their fates its one of the near final scenes in Parasite where the son, Ki-woo, stares in horror as the families plan starts to fall apart.
3 January 2020
I caught the film last week. Thanks for the recommendations!
Parasite felt almost like a cross between a film and a live theatre piece, playing around with the narrative space and frequently winking at the audience. It was really engaging and well made, although I confess that somewhere around the fourth potential ending I was stating to feel that the film should finally settle down with an ending that it liked and call it a day. Still, I really enjoyed it and it has stayed with me.
Do Koreans use English phrases and terms in day-to-day conversations as much as they do in this film? Or was it meant as a joke or commentary? Tangentially, I assume that the “American” products that the family had so proudly purchased were meant as a wink at the audience, considering that they pretty much all looked like cheap junk that had been made in China and imported into the US. I assume the family wouldn’t have afforded a similar level of prestige to a “Chinese” product, but by coming via the US, the products have acquired an elevated status, even if they are functionally the same as they were when they left their Chinese mass production factories. To quote the son: “So metaphorical!” But in an interesting way. This is extended to many other aspects connected to the rich family such as them living in an architectural art piece, not a house, or their dogs needing complicated, individualised diet plans.
All of this plays into the film’s underlying theme of make-believe. Everyone deceives everyone, including themselves. But then again, don’t we all?
And there is definitely the question of what harm there is in deception. The son seems to teach English pretty well, the father drives the car without problems, and the mother seems to excel at her work as well. They do seem to earn their keep. But they did of course push down some other people to climb to those positions.
Still, I suppose the only one that might be doing direct harm to the family (well, until things get more physical anyway) is the daughter with her make-believe art therapy sessions. But even there, she does somehow immediately manage to rein in the kid. It looks like his apparent ADHD was as superficial as so much else in this family. A role, not a reality. But again, we all don roles all the time. Would there be any kind of social reality without them? And what roles are available for us is so often a matter of pure chance, as argued in the Jacobin article that Ugetsu linked to (thanks for the links!).
In terms of the Kurosawa connection, I can see where the comparisons come from. As with High and Low, nothing is black-and-white, lines get blurred, everyone is a victim. One core difference though is the way the rich are portrayed in the two films, as High and Low makes sure to underline that Kingo Gondo has earned his fortune and actually seems to come from a lower social starting point than the kidnapper. In any case, while there is perhaps also a touch of Dodesukaden in Bong Joon-ho’s film, these connections are pretty weak, and the film stands firmly on its own.
That being said, was there a picture of Takashi Shimura among the photos in the basement, or was it just a person who looks like him?
6 January 2020
I’m glad you liked it Vili, its definitely a film that has stayed with me long after I’ve seen it, and I still find myself looking through youtube analyses of it.
This one, on the central montage, is particularly good (and maybe it is Shimura, as this link shows, Bong sneaked in a photograph of Hitchcock!).
I’m sure Lawless can tell us more about the use of props and language, but I was in South Korean in November and many little touches on the selection of food and products seemed very deliberate. I don’t speak a word of Korean, but I certainly heard many English words slipped into regular language, especially in Seoul and Busan (the latter, as a port city, is distinctly more cosmopolitan than other Korean cities I visited). I got the impression that the Koreans use English the way English speakers use French or Italian words – as a means of emphasis or indicating your education (as opposed to just absorbing them as the Japanese do, or using them as expletives, as HKers seem to enjoy). I was very interested too in the choice of products, even the choice of beer seemed deliberate (the Kim family drank the cheapest beer available in the convenience stores).
In one interview with Bong (I’d recommend watching some, he is very entertaining) he talks about how important set design was – both houses (the rich and poor ones) were purpose built sets designed around the script. The ‘poor’ house was in a water tank so they could film the flooding (apparently they used the cosmetic clay used in face masks to create that sewerage look!).
6 January 2020
On the point of the Kurosawa connection, Bong actually name checks Kurosawa in one of his interviews, without referring to a specific movie. I’ll really have to look at them side by side, but I’m quite convinced High and Low was a major reference point, particularly in the design of the sets and the editing and camera movement. The way both films use the picture window of the ‘rich’ house are similar, as are the way in which the formal angles of the modern house are integrated into camera movements and editing. Both films use camera angles and obstructions to emphasis both vertical and horizontal relationships between the characters in a very striking manner.
16 January 2020
Yes, Korean, as spoken in South Korea, uses a lot of English loan words. And kpop is distinctly bilingual, too – the vast majority of songs have English lyrics, oftentimes during the chorus, in part because of prestige and in part to make them more explicable to an international audience, for which, outside of Japan, which as the closest large music market (by revenue, Japan is the second largest market for pop music in the world) gets special treatment in the form of song remakes in Japanese and original songs in Japanese, and China, English is the most frequent commonly known and shared language.
This is the biggest difference between Korean as spoken and written in South Korea and in North Korea. North Korea doesn’t use English loan words. Instead it uses Korean words to describe the same thing, which often winds up taking more words.
Also the Film Institute at Lincoln Center just had (it still may be going on) a Bong retrospective, including movies he admires (a couple of Japanese films are included, but no Kurosawa) as well as movies he directed. I saw his 2006 “monster” movie The Host a week ago yesterday. It’s not as accomplished as Parasite, but I was glad to see it. It’s sort of a more down to earth Godzilla (keep in mind I’ve never actually seen Godzilla) crossed with something like Steven King’s The Stand and anti-colonialist critique. The anti-colonialist aspect is that the monster (whose shape and CGI is somewhere between weird and unconvincing) was the result of formaldehyde dumped down the drain of a morgue at a US military base in/around Seoul winding up in the Han River, which cuts through the middle of Seoul. The formaldehyde being dumped into drains that eventually led to the Han River actually happened, although without producing any known monsters.
16 January 2020
Thanks Lawless. I’m glad you liked The Host, its maybe my all time favourite monster movie.
17 January 2020
Ugetsu, can you say more about The Host and what you liked about it? I probably liked it more for the family and anti-colonialist aspects than the monster itself.
Also there’s this duo of music videos that parodies The Host, which are what initially got me interested in seeing the film. Sorry, they don’t have English subtitles, but they’re hilarious regardless.
Trot and High Technology
I like the fuzzier, cuter monster of the MVs and his red yarn blood/innardt. Also DJ Tukutz looks very much like a younger version of Song Kang Ho.
20 January 2020
Hey Lawless, thanks for those links, great videos!
What I loved about The Host (and all of Bongs movies that I’ve seen so far) are the tonal shifts – the way he continually keeps you wondering if you are watching a comedy, thriller, horror, or something else entirely. He is one of the few modern film makers that make me want to see his films multiple times, because the individual framing of each scene is so rich and complex – Every Frame a Painting examines this quite well with his earlier Memories of Murder. I like how layered his films are, even though of course many of the Korean references are over my head.
20 January 2020
Ugetsu – By the time I went to see The Host I really wanted to see Memories of Murder too, but I didn’t have the time or wherewithal to see both and seeing The Host was more convenient – no need to travel during the height of Manhattan rush hour, could get home at a reasonable hour (it was screened mid-afternoon and ended at 5:30).
26 January 2020
I have seen the movie memories of murder and while watching it I was thinking what would be the ending and after finishing the film I didnt understood the ending and I searched every where and found that it was directors decision to show the ending like that and the criminal who was not caught at that time might watch the film something like that, I was thinking I am not an Korean and I dont know about that killer so I felt like that, what was your opinion guys??
6 February 2020
I was not as blown away by this movie as some but it is very well made and interesting. Another connection to “High and Low” is that I seem to recall the boys were playing cowboys and Indians and American Indians were a recurrent theme in “Parasite.”
This may be a reach but I thought of 2 films which could have provided plot elements, “Sansho the Bailiff” the wild party and “Woman in the Dunes” the man not minding living in the sub basement.
9 February 2020
Good call chomei about the ‘cowboys and indians’ theme.
I did find one youtube clip which (briefly) refers to the High and Low similarities.
11 February 2020
Another interesting link between Parasite and High and Low: both are in black-and-white. That is, apparently Bong Joon Ho had prepared a black-and-white version of the film way back even before the coloured one premiered at Cannes.
The article mentions that the black-and-white cut would be released theatrically before the Oscars but I don’t know if that ever happened. It does seem to have premiered at the Rotterdam film festival though, and it looks like the version may find its way to later Blu-ray releases.
12 February 2020
I guess we should note that Parasite won four Academy Awards, the most of any movie this year, including Best Picture. And South Korea finally won Best International Feature, formerly Best Foreign Film, though this was their first nomination.
This was after Bong Joon Ho famously described the Oscars as “local.” ?
13 February 2020
Yes indeed, I’m delighted it won, at long last the Academy made a bold and correct decision. Especially as the favourite was 1917, which I hated, I simply could not understand the rave reviews.
Here’s a very interesting little analysis of the film based on scent and odour – written by another Lawless I see....
The vividness and potency of smell in Parasite is a key part of what makes the film’s so arresting. Bong notes how this might contribute to its overall appeal: “Its substance smells pungent and cruel. But in terms of style, it is sweet and enticing. Perhaps this is a very unusual and appealing bouquet.” Oscar would agree
It makes an interesting point that very few films successfully convey the notion of odour visually. I can’t recall the name, but the one exception is an early Japanese film I think we covered here years ago – there is a scene I always remember, when a blind man was struck dumb by the scent of a beautiful woman passing him – the film maker conveyed it perfectly, without words. I can think of very few other examples.
16 February 2020
And another interesting take – this time looking at the ‘real’ possible locations for the houses in Seoul.
16 February 2020
One of the special features on the Criterion Collection’s edition of ‘Dreams’ has Catherine Cadou (Kurosawa’s longtime translator) talking in 2011 with various directors about Kurosawa and his films. One of the directors is Bong. According to the subtitles, the following is what he said.
“‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘Rashomon’ are masterpieces loved by all. But for me personally, ‘High and Low’ is still my favorite film if I had to choose just one. When Kurosawa took on the crime film genre the result was a masterpiece. A crime film by Kurosawa can be so different. That really amazed me. I think it inspired or influenced my filmmaking a lot. That’s a film I revisit from time to time. ‘A textbook film’ sounds too formal. It’s more powerful and stimulating than that. Look at the portrayal of the town as a space. Kurosawa excels in every area, but in portraying space he’s the best director ever. Especially in ‘High and Low’ where the town itself becomes a character. The executive’s house is on a hilltop, while the working classes live spread out below. It’s masterful how this portrayal of space makes the town itself a character. The space itself creates the suspense as various incidents occur. My film ‘Mother’ is an exact inversion of that setup. The whole village looks down on the house with the body. I realized that after the shoot. I found it surprising and interesting. I realized I could get that kind of inspiration or idea from the great masters. I’d been inspired by that film, whether consciously or subconsciously, and realizing that later was a good feeling.”
17 February 2020
Wow, that’s a great quote njean, thanks for that.
4 March 2020
An interesting article here from Vox about the view from Japans film industry.
But a few hundred miles east, Parasite and director Bong Joon-ho’s victory forced Japanese filmmakers and critics to reconsider the state of Japanese cinema — an industry that has arguably been in decline since the mid-20th century, when directors like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu transformed global cinema forever.
“Despite the groundbreaking success of anime, Japanese live-action movies haven’t gotten attention since as far back as Kurosawa,” wrote film journalist Tsukasa Shirakawa days after Parasite’s win. “It’s left us wondering why.”
For a few years now I’ve been trying to catch as many of the (very limited) number of Japanese and Korean films released here (mostly in the Dublin Film Festival) and its impossible to avoid the conclusion that at all levels Japanese film has fallen far behind South Korean film, and far behind its own glory days. Of course, Kore-eda won at Cannes last year with Shoplifters, but as the article notes, he struggles to get funding for his low budget movies, despite his high profile worldwide. Its hard not to compare the very plain low budget aesthetic of Shoplifters with the incredibly high production value of Parasite, which features two of the best sets I’ve seen in a long time, it must have been a very expensive film to shoot, and its by no means unique in recent Korean films.
Its hard I think not to conclude that with the exception of some if its high quality animation studios, there is something deeply rotten in the Japanese film industry. It seems only to produce good films almost by accident, or through an act of willpower from its handful of genuinely good film makers. South Korea shows what can be done when real resources are put behind a film industry.
27 March 2020
loved, loved, loved parasite. it was so tightly put together. the best movie i’ve seen in a long while.
re: another movie which features smell, one that comes to mind (or nose) is koreeda’s nobody knows. the motherless kids start to develop a funk that other kids notice.
bong and kurosawa share similarities in their attention to detail and deep involvement in the writing process.
1 April 2020
I have only watched it once, and even though it is good, I am a little surprised that everyone thinks it is so great. I have been watching Asian Samurai/Horror and Dramas for several years. I think the movie is a little cliche and predictable, but done rather well. The acting is superb. as is the directing. I enjoyed the film, The Wailing more, and have watched it about 7 times already. I know, I will probably get blasted for going against the flow with this film, but my opinion is based on 40+ years of watching ‘Good’ movies and along with having seen over 400 Asian movies, new and old, gives me some ground to stand on.
4 April 2020
Welcome Miguel, I’m sorry you didn’t like Parasite so much, but contrary opinions are always welcome here! I rewatched it recently and loved it even more than on first view – I think if any film rewards a rewatch, its one by this director, as every scene is so visually rich, its impossible to pick up everything on a first viewing.
I hadn’t heard of The Wailing, it certainly looks interesting.
6 April 2020
I enjoyed Parasite when I saw it a while back and I expect to revisit it this week. Usually his films have great rewatch value, so I look forward to it.
Another Korean film I enjoyed recently was Burning on Netflix. It’s based on a story by Haruki Murakami, and although I haven’t read this particular story, it has all the Murakami hallmarks: horny young man, a mysterious woman, an important scene with a Miles Davis song. There are some thematic similarities to Parasite but otherwise it’s much more of a slow-burn affair.
7 April 2020
ah, the wailing. that’s also a masterpiece and a bit of a mindfvck, as well as the scariest movie i’ve seen since the exorcist. best to go into that film knowing as little as possible. along the way and afterwards, you’ll probably have to reinterpret much of what you thought you knew about the story.
i don’t recall the wailing featuring any cheap jump scares. the fear comes by other means.
a side note: the wailing‘s setting is a small town in s. korea, and the villain is played by kunimura jun. many reviewers seemed to have misinterpreted the villain’s being japanese (not a spoiler; his ethnicity is noted early in the movie) and the villagers’ casual bigotry as a korea-versus-japan issue. director na’s intention was to have him physically look like a local (by appearance alone, he could pass for either korean or japanese) but being distant because of the linguistic barrier.
I saw it today and while I’m not as blown away as some (plot developments were just a smidge too convenient/coincidental for that), it was an excellent, well-done movie. There were a few things that reminded me of Kurosawa, most particularly the use of the difference between the high ground of the rich family’s home and the literal low ground of the poor family’s home in the scenes of torrential rain and how it floods the poor family’s sub-basement apartment.
Anyway, I’m up for a discussion if anyone else has seen it.