BY ALISON CHURCH
If done wrong, a plot twist in a movie turns out stale and painfully predictable. If done right, a plot twist conveys its message so effectively that viewers can return to watch it again and again, and never get bored by it. The world discovered after October 11th, 2019 that Korean director Bong Joon Ho, who previously directed “Okja” and “Snowpiercer,” knows how to defy predictability. With the release of his new thriller film, “Parasite,” he shocked Korea and the US. Winning the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, “Parasite” will forever be an international film favorite. In an article by “The Atlantic,” Bong reports that he drew inspiration for the plot partially from his past: “I tutored for a rich family, and I got this feeling that I was infiltrating the private lives of complete strangers…I thought how fun it would be if I could get all my friends to infiltrate the house one by one.” In the film “Parasite,” the struggling low income Kim family does exactly this to the privileged, upper class Park family in Seoul.
After the son of the family, Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), manages to pick up a job as an English tutor for the rich Park family’s daughter, he slyly recommends his sister Kim-ki Jung (Park So-dam) as an art therapist for the Park’s rambunctious younger son, even though his sister has no real credentials in that job field. The siblings ease their way into the wealthy family’s life, and quickly manipulate the family into hiring their father Kim Ki-taek (Kang-Ho Song) as their personal chauffeur, and their mother Choong Sook (Hyae Jin Change) as the housemaid. In the process they kick out the previous workers of the house, which later comes back to bite them all. This plan succeeds, and for a while, the director tricks the audience into thinking that this seemingly smooth situation will end happily. In an unexpected turn of events, a dark reality crashes onto the family, and the comedy bluntly morphs into something new and unsettling. The shadow that the rich unknowingly cast over the poor is depicted by the divide between the Park’s lush house sitting high upon a hill, and the cramped, bleak house that the Kim’s live in at the bottom of a hill. The symbolism of the hardships of living at the bottom of the stairs is shown in one of the most vividly shot scenes of the movie, when a heavy rain floods into the Kim’s house, and destroys all of their possessions; meanwhile, the Park family sleeps and enjoys a peaceful, rainy night sitting in the warmth of their polished living room.
In an article by the Atlantic, Bong states that his films are “always based on misunderstanding… I think sadness and comedy all come from that misunderstanding, so as an audience member, you feel bad…As a filmmaker, I always try to shoot with sympathy. We don’t have any villains in Parasite, but in the end, with all these misunderstandings, they end up hurting each other.” Not only do the poor hurt the rich and the rich hurt the poor in this film, but the poor and the poor hurt each other too. “Parasite” depicts just how much the rich and the poor depend on each other for survival. In the midst of the Kim’s breaking their moral code to put food on the table, they witness the impersonal, superficial dynamics that define the Park family, in stark contrast with the Kim’s intimate and loving closeness. The unraveling of these themes and character dynamics is executed by screenwriters Bong and Han Jin-won, and cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong, who also filmed “Burning” and “Snowpiercer.”
Bong harshly contrasts joy, comedy, sadness, and violence, and in doing so reflects the chaos of the world’s persisting barricade between the rich and the poor. He does not rub this message in the audience’s face; he simply lights a fire, and lets it burn as a reminder to the viewer that the movie is far from fiction.
In an AMA interview on Reddit, Bong answered some of his fans dying questions. One fan asked, “Who would you say are your biggest influences as a director?” Bong responded: “Alfred Hitchcock, Brian de Palma, Kyoshi Kurosawa, Kim Ki-Young, Shohei Imamura, David Fincher, and John Carpenter.” Another Reddit user asked, “Which movie (do) you remember as a child marked your path towards film making?” Bong answered that he “watched Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ when (he) was very young. And Henri-Georges Clouzot’s, ‘The Wages of Fear’.” Another fan was more concerned with the development process of the film: “How do you start a screenplay? Does it begin with characters? A plot? A theme? A setting? How much time do you spend writing the first draft until the final draft?” Bong stated that he starts with “Writing the situations first. I throw in characters and certain situations, and I think about who these people are later on in my process. I developed the idea for Parasite over 3 years but I spent 4 months actually writing the script.” Overall, this film deserved its worldwide recognition and acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Parasite delivers comedy and light hearted exchanges between families strung together by loyalty, yet layers on top the divide between classes, and the lengths one will go to chase a happier, richer life. This unpredictably beautiful film was by far the most memorable and impactful film of 2019.