Tagged: Bong Joon Ho, Korean films, Parasite
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.
Watched it twice on the plane…. reminded me of Kurosawa’s “High & Low”, but the twist ending was more Hitchcockian….great movie
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.
I had not even heard of the film, but with your recommendations and after watching the trailer, I’m definitely intrigued!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!).
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.
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.
Thanks Lawless. I’m glad you liked The Host, its maybe my all time favourite monster movie.
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.
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.
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).
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