The Cannes Film Festival has not been so colourful with its competitors in the main festival program in years. From American stars Tarantino and Jarmusch, experienced legends Loach, Malick and Bellocchi, festival favourites Almodóvar, Dolan and Suleiman, as well as regional faces as Celine Sciama and Jean Pier and Luc Dardenne, everyone was a great competitor for the prestigious Palm d’Or.
However, when Alejandro González Iñárritu came to the stage to pass the jury’s decision, he declared that the decision was made unanimously and that Palm d’Or this year is going into the hands of Bong Joon-Ho for his “Parasite”. The long applause and ovations after the premiere of the film are completely the opposite of the events of 2017 when the Korean director was booed at and fiercely convicted because Okja, his film that screened that year in Cannes, was produced by Netflix.
In the basement of success
“Parasite” follows a clear and resourceful Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-sik) young man living in a cellar that is easily accessible to local night screamers, with his several years younger street smart sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam), a farouche but friendly mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) and the lucidly optimistic father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho). The family is trying to survive with the minimum wage, stacking pizza boxes, stealing the wi-fi signal from their neighbours and leaving open windows during street disinfection to avoid paying for disinfection of their own home.
Everything changes one day when Ki-Woo’s gets recommended by his friend, who is moving abroad for studies, to a rich family Park to teach English to their spoiled teenage daughter. As Mr. Park is a businessman who earns a great deal of money and can afford a driver, a home assistant and everything Mrs. Park wants (and that is the ultimate education for her daughter and a spoiled artsy son, through recommendations of course) Ki Woo comes up with an idea of how to get his family out of the poverty they are currently in.
Bong Joon-ho in the first part of the movie with unbelievable dedication builds the world of the wealthy Park and the poor family of our protagonist Ki-woo. Every arrival and employment of a family to the luxurious Park home is comically elaborated up to every single detail. In the beginning, these are small things that give us a character building, e.g. Ki-Jung is great with document falsification so she uses her skill to start working as “art therapist” at Park house, but still a diploma she lies about is actually just from college she already desires to enrol and finish when she has money . As each character is getting into Park house, tricks are becoming more complex and comical, to the point in which events reach a detailed master planning levels of the “Oceans Eleven”.
Parks, in the beginning, might seem naive, with elevated attitudes and excessive emotions (or lack of emotion) but there is much more behind it than what it seems. As the initial contrast between the two families is disappearing, Joon-ho moves us lightly from comedy to horror-mystery in the second part of his film.
Layers of genres and level of meaning
What is particularly interesting is that “Parasite” manages to be a socially relevant drama, comedy and horror/mystery that, in addition to all over-the-top moments, remains quite realistic. Although the film juggles with a multitude of genres, the transition of dynamics takes place naturally, is never foresighted or redundant, and the final outcome is that the film occupies the attention at all times.
Another aspect of the film worth considering is the triple structure of the Park’s house. For a good part and the way the characters are just going through the home, they would fit the socio-economic scale (poor, working class, bourgeois), and without a problem the film could also be accompanied by Zizek’s reading of the Hitchcock House of the Brenner family from The Birds where the floors reflect psychological states of id, ego and superego.
If one would really like to look for downsides of the film, the melodramatic end of the movie to the Western audience could seem as unreasonably long, emotional and somewhat unhappy. Yet those who are familiar with recent Korean cinematography, the ending of “Parasite” might be quite common, perhaps even expected.
Parasites, victims and criminals
“Parasite” is the perfect culmination of Bong Joon-ho’s work so far. In the film, it is equally possible to feel the ambitious critical approach to the relevant social topic (the early Korean works of the filmmaker) while at the same time it manages to entertain large masses with simple, comic and yet authentic stories (American years of the filmmaker). A representative image of the class struggle, both in Korea and in the world, dynamic and fun action scenes that engage the audience and a series of surprises, are just some of the reason why this work, in front of all this year’s great Cannes films has deserved Palm d’Or.