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Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho

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Film review – Title: Parasite / Director: Bong Joon-Ho / Released: 2019

There seems to be something fundamentally odd with the decisions of major festivals worldwide, with provocative films like Joker and Parasite winning first prize at the Venice and Cannes film festivals respectively. Films that hold strong beliefs and indirectly call out to the masses for a social awakening.

Parasite won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, which has become a yearly celebration of films that proclaim progressive, anti-American attitudes.”

Armond White, National Review

The director Bong Joon-Ho seems determined to carry out his project successfully and, judging from the meticulous level of detail, he has succeeded in creating something visually appealing. The settings play a significant role here: on the one hand, we’re dealing with the basement apartment of a poor family and, on the other, with the extravagantly, luxurious open-space house of the rich. The social contrasts couldn’t be more obviously striking, and I am not sure that this raw juxtaposition doesn’t constitute a huge cliché.

Of course, the director places its creation within the dark-comic-satire genre and this alone excuses many of the plot’s exaggerated turns. And when it comes to creating pure suspense, Bong manages to deliver a bucketful.

But there is also plenty of preaching naïveté. A lot is hinted about the American way of life, with the wealthy family imitating what is probably – wrongly considered to be – the American lifestyle. But this Americanization does not only concern the plot but also the artistic direction, with many slow-motion scenes, overly stylised and with pseudo-classical music in the background, mimicking perhaps western TV ads or series. But here it seems contrived and out of place in an all-Asian context.

While Parasite is not a bad movie, it has little artistic merit. If we take each ingredient individually, then the performances are nothing to write home about, simply because the characters mostly resemble comic book personas than real-life people. The direction is very linear, based heavily on aesthetics: a lot of classical music and slow-motion techniques with glimpses of striking photography. In the end, the combination of near-comical performances and satirical plot elements, ironic directional tone and stylised photography is not dissimilar to the feeling we get with popular sitcoms.

Don’t get me wrong: in the past couple of years, we have seen some real gems from Asian cinema. When it comes to Parasite I’d really like to be able to say something positive, but between the one-sided characters, the carefully worked out plot where each little detail and event seem perfectly synchronised for the sake of a technically perfect cinematic execution, plus the ethically ambiguous messages it delivers to the audience, I am not sure I can.

This would have been a better film had it not resorted to such simplistic metaphorical devices and if it had instead focused on the core and essence of the protagonists’ behaviour rather than their grimaces and witticisms.

Not bad overall, excellent in technical terms, definitely not boring but naïve in its symbolism, it might turn out to be disappointing to those who seek a highly artistic experience.

Featured image: Film poster (https://www.parasite-movie.com/)

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