Two months ago or in mid-August, I earnestly praised Boon Joon-ho‘s Parasite to a certain degree. But also with some reservations. Critics had been gushing over the Palme d’Or winner since it premiered last May in Cannes, but now that it’s open and playing in the U.S. I’d like to engage in a debate about the plusses and minuses.
Please understand that portions of the remainder of this column will contain spoilers.
In an 8.14.19 piece called “Least Problematic Bong Joon-ho,” I wrote that I’d seen four of his films — The Host (’06), Mother (’09), Snowpiercer (’13) and Okja (’17). And that my reactions were the same all along — I admired the craft and energy, didn’t believe the stories. To me it seemed obvious that Bong was more into high impact movie-ness than establishing at least a tenuous relationship between his scenarios and the terms and conditions of real life.
The darkly humorous Parasite “is different,” I noted. “For the first time Bong allows you to half-invest in the story (co-written by himself and Han Jin-won), which offers a witty, satiric portrait of South Korea’s haves and have-nots. Up to a point (or during the first 30 to 40 minutes), the world of Parasite actually resembles the way things are, or at least could be. But it still feels more movie-ish than persuasive.”
I have five beefs with Parasite. The film’s defenders need to explain how I’m wrong or mistaken…thanks. Let the arguments commence.
(1) It makes no sense at all that a poor family of four could successfully deceive and manipulate a rich family into hiring them all in different positions, and expect that the rich family would never sniff a conspiracy. Sooner or later the rich employers would smell it. Especially with the snooty paterfamilias (“Mr. Park”, played by Lee Sun-kyun) noting at one point that the poor father Kim Kitaek (Song Kang-ho) has an aroma very much like their recently hired housekeeper (and Kim’s wife), Kim Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin). All they have to do to eliminate that notion is take extra-long showers with different brands of body-gel soap.
(2) It makes no sense that this family, sitting in their absent employer’s home and eating fine food and getting drunk, would allow the recently fired former maid, Moon-kwang (Lee Jung-eun), who has every motive in the world to expose the poor family’s deceptions, into the home. But they do so anyway. Worse, when they’re drunk and dishevelled. Which is absurd.
(3) The rich owners have no idea whatsoever that their house has a secret basement? Mr. Park never asked to see the original architectural plans or the history of additional building activity or permits by the previous owner? Never mind that the the husband of Moon-kwang has been living in the basement for years on end — why wouldn’t Mr. Park know of the basement’s existence? A ridiculous contrivance.
(4) The backyard slaughter finale feels forced and unreal…I didn’t buy it for a second. It’s Bong Joon-ho saying, “I want a grand and bloody ending that sums up my theme of social inequity, and I don’t care how implausible it seems.” A producer friend calls the backyard finale “abrupt, unbelievable and senselessly violent.”
(5) And then the movie goes on and on for almost ten minutes after that. Including having Kim Kitaek secretly move into the cellar and live there interminably. End it with the killings!
Producer friend: “I saw Parasite at a recent Academy screening, which was packed. Director and two actors attended for a post=screening q & a. I was waiting for someone to explain the gaping holes in plot logic, especially why in the world the poor chauffeur father went to live in the basement at the end? Was that supposed to be ironic?
“Was the Palme d’Or prize and the ecstatic critical reaction that followed motivated by 1% guilt? I agree that we need a good movie about the growing gap between rich and poor and the shrinking middle class, but this film starts out as a fun and harmless con game where everyone wins and then, in the second half, descends into a muddled, disjointed and affected statement on class struggle. I was expecting so much more.
Jordan Ruimy, posted two months ago: “There is no subtlety in this movie. That’s why I wrote it felt like ‘Kore-eda on steroids.’ A rather over-the-top but highly watchable film. The first half was much better, but then it started becoming too crazy once they let the former maid back into the house, and then the twist.
“Geek culture has embraced this movie like no other before it. It’s their Citizen Kane. I don’t think time will be kind to Parasite. We’re going to be looking back and asking ourselves ‘how the hell did this movie win the Palme d’Or?’ I understand that we are living in rather unsubtle times in the Trump-era but Bong Joon-ho doesn’t seem to understand (or want to understand) how people actually talk, act and feel. He’s a glorious visualist but a childish screenwriter.”