Tuesday, February 25, 2020

기생충 (Parasite)


The Kim family has been down on their luck for many years now and so when opportunity strikes, so do they. After all, living in a basement apartment that becomes a swimming pool during monsoon season no thanks to flood and sewer water is not really an ideal kind of life any family would want. When son 김기우 (최우식), who calls himself Kevin, is asked by a former classmate to take over his English tutorial gig at a rich Seoul household, he doesn’t think twice despite lacking the qualifications. Taking note of the family’s naivety and taking advantage of it, he soon gets his sister 김기정 (박소담) a.k.a. Jessica in the family’s employ, followed by their father 김기택 (송강호) and later on, their mother 박충숙 (장혜진) as well. Thinking they finally hit the jackpot by leeching onto the unsuspecting Park family, another parasite soon emerges, fighting over their host for survival.

But what is this film all about? Nobody who had seen it wanted to tell me. Is it an alien abduction narrative? A movie about a pandemic caused by a parasite? Apparently, it’s not any of those things. Perhaps the best part about speculating is that the universe seems to have conspired to inspire people who have watched this not to spoil anything for those who haven’t done so yet. In the end, you will have a better appreciation of both plot and storyline if you see this masterpiece without a single clue. That doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about some themes and aspects of the film that make everyone rave about it, though.

At the core of this narrative is the issue of class divide that has persisted not just through modern day Seoul, but in every corner of the planet. Every country will have its group of filthy rich millionaires and those who rely on scraps daily just to get by. In cities like Manila, that gap is an ubiquitous attraction in business districts like Makati, where skyscrapers and slum areas co-exist literally right next to each other. In more advanced economies like South Korea, you’d think that this disparity simply wouldn’t exist.

Maybe that’s what makes the story relatable to Seoulites on both sides of the class divide: a surprising revelation for the rich; an acknowledgment of everyday reality for the poor. As to why Parasite has captured the interest of a worldwide audience despite cultural differences is just a testament to the universality of its main theme. Most of the subplots you see in this film are tackled from two points of view that are almost polar opposites of one another, in effect further highlighting the duality of the human condition.

Of course, analysis of the main theme will widely differ based on the culture observing it. For Filipino audiences, it’s perhaps the underdog angle that captures the imagination. That peculiar twist in the second act can only be as bizarre as the imagery used to encapsulate the idea, but not so strange if you think about the mentality and paranoia instilled in the reality of the post-Cold War Korean peninsula. It is one heck of an odd premise, to be honest, but not at all unimaginable given the sociohistorical factors of the setting.

Does Parasite deserve its Oscar win? By all means, even though the awarding of such accolade seems to be gimmicky at best to coincide with the timely agenda of diversity which has been the prevalent battle cry in Hollywood as of late. In terms of filmmaking, foreign films such as La Vita è Bella or Pan’s Labyrinth should have won that Best Picture award during their respective awards seasons given the Academy’s knack for war and holocaust features. Perhaps the minor backlash stems from the storyline itself, which seems a bit farfetched in the eyes of an American moviegoer. But hell yeah, it’s about time, so congratulations.

Overall, Parasite is perfect if you want a legit WTF cinematic experience that bubbles up for an hour or so before knocking you out with a crazy twist punctuated by no holds barred violence that metaphorically doubles as an in-your-face social commentary. The symbolism, striking visuals, and cinematography are just icing on top of the cake. If you don't go out of the cinema scratching your head and wanting answers, then you probably missed the point.

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