Every so often a film comes along that reminds you why you love cinema. Three Billboards a few years ago was one such film, as was Dunkirk, and now it has a stablemate: Parasite.
The current importance of this film cannot be overstated. The first foreign language film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and the first film to win both the Palme D’Or and the Best Picture award since 1955. It represents a changing of the tide in Western film viewership, a broadening of the horizons to new possibilities, it may be in a foreign language, but it’s quality and accessibility might be what opens the floodgates for more successful films from Asia or anywhere else in Europe and the US.
I must admit to not being full on-board the foreign film train until recently. With a lot of films made with Eastern cultures in mind, there is a strong cultural divide that is tricky to circumnavigate, a lot of Asian cinema can seem inaccessible to Western eyes; and that’s fine, we shouldn’t be demanding to be catered for in other cultures art, but certain things transcend cultural difference and become palatable worldwide, past examples being Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or more recently, Crazy Rich Asians.
I went into Parasite knowing nothing about it, I’d seen trailers, but these give little away in terms of the films content, as any good trailer should, it entices you to watch without giving away crucial plot points, a fine line I’ve always tried to tightrope-walk on, and I cannot recommend going into Parasite ‘blind’ enough.
The experience of watching this film was like an epiphany. Every aspect is constructed perfectly, it is presented expertly, it’s direction and cinematography is a work of sheer genius, taking what could be regular concepts and settings and coating them with a bizarre atmosphere, giving the audience an anxiety that something terrible is going to happen, we just don’t know what, how or when.
It’s a film that is almost impossible to label, it’s utter disregard for genre boundaries shining brightly, it juggles comedy, drama, even a little bit of horror to craft a narrative that will have you guessing what is around each and every corner, with the edge of your seat firmly carving itself into your backside.
It’s a narrative constructed from characters and situations, establishing a firm divide between the two sets of characters, one from a wealthy background, one from a life of poverty, yet intelligently intertwining their lives and stories, laying foundations of inner conflict and class conflicts, it’s a razor-sharp commentary on class divide, that you won’t even recognise it as a commentary until afterwards.
It firmly puts itself in another league of film narrative with its mid-film twist, one that forces you to reevaluate each characters motivations, and go back through the films events up to that point, and from their it spirals downwards into a jaw-dropping, gasp-inducing finale which will take your breath away and leaving you wondering how the film evolved from its first scene to its last.
Despite the language differences, and having to watch with subtitles, the script is at-times hilarious and equally tense in the later scenes, it’s a masterful balancing act of multiple genres and styles, that seamlessly grows and evolves over its two-hour-plus run-time, without ever missing a step, the change from comedy-drama to tense thriller is never a lurching one, its a change so subtle that it’s barely noticeable.
The acting is also top-notch, taking complex characters and giving them several layers of characterisation, mixing likeable components with a manipulative side, developing and only getting more nefarious as the film goes on, but we never lose affection for them because of the actors responsible for the portrayals, their changes in character mirroring the films own evolution.
The cinematography is staggering, its inventive use of framing, showing the difference between both families through the visual use of camera-framing; also the use of different colour-grading in different settings, the dull and grey surroundings of the half-basement the Kim’s live in, to the blindingly-white, crystal clear surroundings of the Parks house, it uses the medium of storytelling to the best of its potential, showing stories in the ways only film can, it’s these things you don’t realise, but really make all the difference in presentation.
Clearly the result of a master director on top of his game, Parasite might just be the start of a new wave of films from Korea and other Asian countries, as the start of a movement perhaps; but even if it doesn’t, on its own, it is a near-perfect film, that stands on its own regardless of the legacy it might once leave, it deserves every word of praise it has earned in the past year.
It is not often I throw around terms like ‘near-perfect’ so you have to imagine how good this film must be for me to use such superlatives, it is not every day a film like this comes along, maybe once-in-a-generation. Not a single part of it fails, everything is expertly crafted and executed, and its overall quality and effect it had on me almost reduced me to tears, it’s not every day a film affects me in that way, and I very much doubt we’ll see the likes of Parasite ever again, it will take a monstrous effort to unseat this film as the best of the year, even at this early stage, and it may even be in the conversation for all-time greats.