In preparation for the Academy Awards on Sunday, and not wanting to leave my house to see “1917,” I took advantage of technology and watched “Parasite.” in my pajamas. This film from South Korea had won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, rave reviews and every foreign film prize on the awards circuit. It was a lock for the Best International Film Oscar (it won) and there was talk it could be an upset winner for Best Picture.
I played it safe on my ballot at the Sarasota Film Festival Oscar party and cast my vote for the film I chose not to see, “1917” and director Sam Mendes. Both had been collecting a lot of hardware, leaving Scorcese, Tarantino et al in the dust. But then late Sunday night, about seven hours into one of the most predictable Oscars ever, those wacky Academy voters shocked writer/director Bong Joon Ho (who racked up a lot of steps on his Fitbit with four trips to the podium) and millions of viewers by naming “Parasite,” the first foreign-language film in Oscar history, to win Best Picture. It also won Best Director and Original Screenplay.
“Parasite” (R) is indeed an extraordinary film and a masterful examination of the class system. The Kim family lives on a grimy street in a dingy, cramped basement apartment where they have to pick up free WIFI hunched on the toilet, watch drunks urinate outside their window and welcome the choking blast of pesticide spray as free fumigation. None of them work, due either to the country’s high unemployment or lack of effort, we’re never quite sure, and are folding pizza boxes to get by.
Then the son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) gets a break when his friend invites him to take over a cushy job tutoring the daughter of the wealthy Park family. With credentials expertly forged by his sister, Ki-jung (Park So Dam), Ki-woo charms the girl’s mother (Cho Yeo Jeong), a beautiful but “simple” woman, into hiring him.
The Park mansion, designed by a famous architect, with its never-ending rooms, gleaming floors and gorgeous grounds, is a universe away from the Kims’ basement and Ki-woo wants to share the wealth. The Kims concoct an elaborate plan that soon has Ki-jung employed as the Parks’ difficult younger son’s art therapist, and the father, Ki-taek (Song Kang Ho) as the patriarch’s driver. The Kims even manage to oust the long-time housekeeper, allowing their mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae Jin) to take over. One needs to suspend belief at this point, as there is no way one woman could ever keep a house this size, that spotless.
The Kims are more opportunists than con artists and I wondered if they were clever enough to pull off this complicated a coupe, why couldn’t at least one of them hold down a job? But, while they are making more money than ever, things aren’t really changing for them. They pay off a bill or two and buy what they need to continue to fool the Parks, but literally cannot escape the “stench” of poverty.
Just when you settle in for two hours of insightful and occasionally humorous social satire, wondering whether the Kims or the Parks are the namesake “parasites,” the film takes a dark and seamless turn to riveting suspense and terror. Bong, whose previous films include “Snowpiercer’ and “Okja,” has created a truly visionary work that never lets up until its jarring conclusion. He is gifted with a flawless cast who previously and deservedly won Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards,
“Parasite” is without question a great film, deserving of the awards it received on Sunday. Is it a “masterpiece” as others claim? Not quite. After its Oscar triumph, it will likely be re-released, and I would recommend you see it on the big screen instead of at 9 am on a Sunday morning.
Oh, and I know you’re wondering if I won the Oscar pool at the party. I did not, I lost to my film-buff daughter Emma, who pulled a surprise win of her own, choosing 21 of the 24 eventual winners. Two of the three she missed were for “Parasite.”
Parasite: 5 Out Of 5 Stars