TIFF 2019: Parasite – movie review

Parasite. Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

For the first time I’ve been granted press accreditation for the Toronto International Film Festival®, recognised as one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world. So, I had the opportunity to watch and review a bunch of movies. This is my review of Parasite (South Korea, Bong Joon-ho, comedy/drama/thriller; original title: Gisaengchung).

After winning the Palme D’Or at The Cannes Film Festival, Parasite is now being screened at TIFF for the joy of North American audiences. This is the latest effort from one of the finest filmmakers working today: Bong Joon-ho. Having worked over the last decade on the expansive, internationally-set features Snowpiercer and Okja, Bong now returns to his home country for a film that, while smaller in scale, focuses on broad and ambitious themes.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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Without revealing too much of the plot, which would only be unfair toward this film, Parasite follows the Ki-taek’s family, as they try to escape their unemployment status and join the upper-class in South Korea. What ensues is a film that breaks free of any recognisable genre. As the director himself stated:

“This film is a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains, all leading to a violent tangle and a headlong plunge down the stairs”

Parasite is hilarious, violent, sweet, dramatic, mysterious, scary, action-packed, entertaining all at the same time. Even though, on paper, this film should have a more contained approach, its multi-layered themes and expert execution make it stand out as a true, undisputable masterpiece.

The film benefits from what can only be described as an all-star cast, with Song Kang-ho (who’s been in all but one Bong’s movies), as the father of the Ki-taek’s family, bringing so much to his role and this picture as a whole: Song gives another performance that brings up emotion, fear and laughter in the viewer. The immense talent in front of the camera is matched, though, by the collection of top names behind the camera. The director of photography for Parasite is Hong Kyung-Pyo, widely recognised as one of the very top cinematographers working in Korea today, having collaborated with Bong on films like Mother (2009) and Snowpiercer (2013), but also with Le Chang-dong on the acclaimed Burning (2018) and with Na Hong-jin on The Wailing (2016).

For the art direction, Bong turned to the veteran Lee Ha Jun, whose previous works include Okja (2017), and The Housemaid (2016). The original score was written by Jung Jae Il, who has been involved in various sorts of musical composition while also serving as music director on Okja.

As a result of this combination, perfectly directed by Bong, Parasite is one of the most visually stunning and best sounding pictures of 2019: the set-design (either dirty and messy for the Ki-taek’s family or neat and crisp for the upper-class people), the camera-work and the cinematography are simply spotless. Throughout the whole film, there isn’t a single technical mistake, not even a tiny inconsistence in the sound design.

Due to the perfect craft of its execution, Parasite leads the viewer through an exhilarating journey made of laughs, tears, scares and blood delivered by flawed and well-rounded characters.

Just like every other movie from Bong Joon-ho, Parasite is about the state of today’s society, and the impossibility of people of different classes living together in a symbiotic relationship. However, this introspective reflection is, here, even more poignant and impactful as the viewer witnesses the two families in this story have some things in common, both being made up of four members with a son and daughter. But in terms of their everyday lives, they occupy two different extremes. Still, they are brought together in a relationship of employment, leading to an unpredictable outcome.

Despite the captivating fast pace of Parasite, which might come off as light-hearted on a surface level, what the film implies is rather dour and confronting, when you think about it.

I’ve seen every movie Bong directed, from Barking Dogs Don’t Bite (2000) all the way to Parasite, and it’s impressive to literally witness how much his style improves and becomes more elaborated with every film: after Memories of Murder (2003) and Mother (2009), Parasite is the third Bong’s film not to have a single flaw, a single mistake or inconsistent moment. I love this movie so much and I hope you will be able to check it out as soon as possible.

Parasite                                  10/10

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