Yes, Mr. President, "Parasite" Was the Best
Director Bong Joon-ho's film also won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film
Parasite unfolds the textured story of a poor family infiltrating the household of a rich one as unrelated employees. The Kims live in a squalid semi-basement apartment whose dirty windows look out at a urinating man and clouds of pesticide released by a fumigator, while the Parks live in a secluded mansion whose gleaming glass front looks out onto a lush green lawn. The South Korean film leaves the moviegoer craving to see it again in order to make sense of its disturbing truths.
In 2020, it won four Oscars, including the Oscar for Best Picture, the first foreign-language film to do so. U.S. President Donald J. Trump can’t understand South Korea winning. Understandably.
The mother in the movie Kim family, Chung-sook, does an unflattering imitation of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un for which she receives a compliment from the father, Ki-taek. There are other references to the fearful spectre of North Korea and its nuclear weapons. Trump has attempted to nurture a personal relationship with Chairman Kim as a way to break the stalemate over North Korea’s nuclear program. Last month, he sent birthday wishes to Kim.
Choson Simbo, a Japan-based pro-North Korean daily, lauds Parasite for exposing the deep economic disparities in South Korea, the fourth largest economy in Asia and the 11th in the world. It calls the film “a masterpiece that has artfully and sharply cut through the reality of a handful of loan sharks living well while ruling over an overwhelming majority, who they consider as dogs or pigs, has been recognized as Number 1 in the U.S.- and Caucasian-centric film industry.”
The film does reveal the economic rift in South Korea. The Kims, the parents and two adult children, work a variety of temporary jobs, including folding pizza boxes, which they foil. The father in the Park family owns a technology company. There is one loan shark connection in the film, which is nightmarish. To write more would spoil one of the many surprises in Parasite.
Director Bong Joon-ho’s film has twists and turns, some of which raise questions that crawl under the skin of the audience. The characters and the story are complex. The son of the Kim family, Ki-woo, gets a job as an English tutor for the Park’s daughter. He ingratiates himself with Mrs. Park and recommends an artist as a tutor for her young son, whose laughably untalented work hangs on their walls. He lies about the identity of the artist who is his sister. In other underhanded ways, the Kims’ father becomes the Park’s chauffeur, and the Kims’ mother becomes the Park’s housekeeper.
Then, the story begins.
Bong, the director, creates a strong sense of place through sound and sight. Hard driving rain, for example, hypnotizes and glues the viewer to the screen. Also, there is an overhead shot of the Kims’ neighborhood that nods to a shot of the back of the apartment building in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Bong paid homage to Martin Scorsese when he accepted the Oscar in the Best Picture category in which Scorsese had been nominated for The Irishman. He said that Scorsese was taught in school. Bong learned well. The menace that Scorsese weaved in Taxi Driver was similar to that in Parasite.
The Kims want to move up out of the semi-basement, but they are stuck in the mire, Bong said in a National Public Radio article in November 2019.
“These semi-basement homes are only half-underground,” he said. “That’s very similar to the psychology of our protagonists. We became a wealthy country very fast. And people who weren’t able to board that fast train to wealth, they feel lost. And they feel a sense of inferiority.
“The economy is not just about numbers. It also carries a lot of emotion as well.”
Trump asked a rally crowd whether Parasite was good. He said:
“I thought it was best foreign film, best foreign movie. No, it was the best.”
Yes, Mr. President, it was the best.