At Cannes 2019, South Korea's Parasite is an Engrossing Take on Social Divisions
Parasite's one minus point is its similarity to last year's Japanese entry, Shoplifters.
A still from Parasite.
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's Parasite, which has an excellent chance to win the Palm dÓr at Cannes 2019, is by far his best work till date. I was not quite enamoured of his earlier Snowpiercer or Okja. His latest outing is a ripping commentary on a deeply divided society -- where a chauffeur is ridiculed for his smelly clothes and made to feel like a worm. And in Parasite, such demeaning incidents lead to an unthinkable episode. The film is a wild ride – where comedy rubs shoulders with tragedy, were laughter is punctuated by tears and a kind of desperation that pushes people to the edge.
Parasite's one minus point is its similarity to last year's Japanese entry, Shoplifters. But if one were to look beyond this, Bong's work has the ability to grip you. The father here (Song Kang-ho) is full of pride seeing his children indulge in the most nefarious of activities. Does Oxford University have a course in forgery, he asks his daughter Ki-Jung (Park So-dam), when she forges a degree certificate for her brother Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik).
The family of four lives in a dark and dingy basement flat where rain water drips through the roof and wi-fi connectivity is a problem. They find it hard to get even very menial kind of work, but one day, Ki-woo gets a job to coach the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Park (Lee Sun-kyun). Ki-woo cleverly manipulates the situation to get positions for his father, mother and brother in the Park household. Ki-woo's family is happy earning pots of money, and when Park and his wife/son/daughter go on a camping holiday, the once-downtrodden family earns a vacation as well in the palatial mansion. But then destiny has other plans in store, and the movie hurtles down to a bloody climax.
Parasite is Bong's most polished effort. It is beautifully shot with one scene seamlessly merging into another (lovely piece of editing), and the acting despite being over the top at times, does not pull the film down. Tightly scripted with precise detailing in place, Parasite may not be up where Shoplifters was last May, but Bong's creation could well be one of the best arriving from South Korea in recent times.
Unfortunately, movies of this kind never seem to travel to India, given its obsession with local language fare. The only chance an avid Indian film-goer has a chance to watch a Bong work is at a movie festival or, who knows, on Netflix or Amazon – two streaming giants that are getting very popular in India.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering Cannes close to three decades)
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