It almost feels like an insult to attempt to contain Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite into one genre. Perhaps terming it a thriller would be the aptest classification, for it manages to thrill from start to finish. Bong himself called it an ‘unstoppably fierce tragicomedy.’ Really, he transcends genre, forcing audiences through every emotion during the film’s runtime.
Fittingly, it has also transcended award show boundaries. After unanimously winning the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival (the first Korean film to do so), Parasite has deservedly taken the awards season by storm, ending 2019 with 14 Best Picture wins, 25 Best Foreign Film wins and 11 Best Director wins. Most recently, it was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Though its UK release isn’t until February, Odeon’s Screen Unseen provided a preview for British audiences and showed that it is definitely worth the wait.
Parasite follows the impoverished Kim family as they insert themselves into the lives of the Parks, a wealthy family who are just ‘simple’ enough not to notice that all of their new employees are related. The chaos which ensues is utterly unpredictable, only enhanced by Bong’s directing style. Suspense is at its core; his camera follows characters into basements and around corners, only allowing us to see what lies behind them when they do. The meticulous world of Parasite reaches even to its production design. The Parks’ open-plan house, full of windows and placed notably on a hill, is a far cry from the claustrophobic, dingy semi-basement the Kims live in, set physically, as well as socially, below their employers.
Bong’s talent is not limited to his directing; his screenplay is an exceptionally nuanced study in class and parasitism. It critiques the blissful ignorance of the upper class. Yet, Bong takes this discussion further. He depicts violence, too, between the lower classes, forced to fight for themselves in a system which allows few to succeed, or even to survive.
It is easy to see why Parasite gained Oscar nominations for its directing, editing, production design and original screenplay. What is puzzling, then, is the lack of nominations for acting. Bong stated that he believes the film is great due to its actors; is it, then, the continued bias of members of The Academy which keeps foreign performances from well-deserved nominations? With such a solid ensemble performance, it is hard to justify their complete absence from the acting categories with any other explanation.
With this, and with rumours of an American remake in talks, it is worthwhile calling attention to Bong’s Golden Globes acceptance speech, ‘Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.’