A Thoughtful Plot-full from Korea

By Cynthia Citron

There was a silly old bromide that theater folk used to use to identify the plot lines of Russian films. It went, “In a Russian tragedy everybody dies; in a Russian comedy everybody dies, but they die happy!”

Apparently, this same definition might be used to identify films from South Korea, although we don’t see very many of those. But a new film which has already won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, a prize that many consider the prime award for films, as well as nominations from major film festivals around the globe. Also a nomination as the Best International Feature Film at the upcoming 92nd Academy Awards ceremony.

“Parasite” is a social satire written and directed by a man named Bong Joon-ho, and stars a brilliant cast of actors whose names you probably don’t recognize. They portray a wealthy family, the Parks, who live in a spectacular home created by a prominent Korean architect, and an indigent family, the Kims, who live a ragtag existence in the poorer part of town. Their connection begins when a friend who is about to leave for college persuades Kim Ki-woo, the son of the Kim family, to take over his job as an English teacher for Park Da-hye, the daughter of the Park family. Ki-woo is readily accepted by the Parks, especially by Choi Yeon-gyo, the naive mother of the family who will accept anyone who is recommended by someone she knows.

After Ki-woo has been working for awhile, his older sister, Kim Ki-jeong, devises a nasty plan which results in the Park family driver getting fired. Which prompts Ki-woo to suggest a driver he knows who would serve the father of the Park family well. He does not reveal, of course, that the man he is recommending is his father, Kim Ki-taek. Later, recognizing the problems the Park family undergoes with their young son, Park Da-song,

a wanna-be artist, Ki-woo suggests a woman who could teach the boy art as well as transforming him from an unruly brat to a relatively acceptable child. The woman he recommends is his sister, Kim Ki-jeong, who delivers a long line of gibberish about her prowess as an artist/psychotherapist and impresses the young boy’s mother mightily. Which leaves only the Kim family mother, Kim Chung-sook, without a job. And so, once again Ki-jeong devises a plan to convince the Parks that their long-time housekeeper and cook is suffering from tuberculosis. So that unfortunate woman is fired immediately and replaced by Kim Chung-sook.

Up to this point “Parasite” is a screwball comedy that would have delighted an audience in the 1930s. It’s a film beautifully shot in the 21st century, however, enhanced by light and color and an atmosphere that appears to value the peaceful relationship between two families from opposite ends of the social spectrum.

But this is only the first half of the film. From here “Parasite” turns into an entirely different film, one that a present-day audience would think had been created by Quentin Tarantino. There is inexplicable violence, buckets of blood, unexpected diabolical twists in the plot, and an orgy of killing. It’s like the proverbial definition of a Russian tragedy: everybody dies “but they don’t die happy!”

“Parasite” can be seen currently in theaters all over L.A. and is thought to be a shoo-in for a win on Oscar night. If you don’t get a chance to read any of the rave reviews authored by film critics around the world, don’t just take my word for it. It’s a film you have to see and judge for yourself.

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