Originally written for Cineworld
Hailed by many critics as the best film of 2019, Parasite is the latest genre-blending movie from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho.
The film is a twisted story of the haves and have-nots, showing us how a scheming lower-class family infiltrates the lives of their wealthier, upper-class counterparts. In Joon-ho's typical style, Parasite mixes bold camerawork with pitch-black comedy and moments of shock in order to keep the viewer off-balance throughout.
Variety critic Jessica Kiang raves: "Bong is back and on brilliant form, but he is unmistakably, roaringly furious, and it registers because the target is so deserving, so enormous, so 2019. Parasite is a tick fat with the bitter blood of class rage."
In anticipation of the Parasite Cineworld Unlimited screening on the 24th of January, we're taking you on a quick run-through of the director's previous movies.
1. Memories of Murder (2003)
(left to right) Detective Cho Yong-koo (played by Roe-ha Kim), Detective Seo Tae-yoon (played by Sang-kyung Kim), and Detective Park Doo-man (played by Kang-ho Song) in Memories of Murder (2003)
Bong Joon-ho announced himself as a director of repute with this gripping noir mystery. The filmmaker was at the forefront of a wave of early 21st century South Korean cinema, which also included the likes of Park Chan-wook and Oldboy.
Memories of Murder is, however, a gem from the midst of that purple patch, taking as its basis the country's first-ever documented serial killer case. The killer in question was Lee Choon-jae, who orchestrated a reign of terror between 1986 and 1991. And the film does an excellent job recapping how the shocking crime affected not just the investigating police officers, but also the fabric of an entire nation, perhaps the first indication of Joon-ho's brilliance at fusing social commentary with popular entertainment.
The film achieved commercial success in South Korea, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of its year. And its international profile rose even further on the back of screenings at the Cannes Film Festival and others. Director Quentin Tarantino lauded the movie as one of his top 10 movies released between 1992 and 2009 – truly, there was no escaping Joon-ho's name after this.
2. The Host (2006)
(left to right) Park Hie-bong (played by Hee-Bong Byun), Park Gang-Doo (played by Kang-ho Song), and Park Nam-il (played by Hae-il Park) in The Host (2006)
One of Joon-ho's great strengths is his ability to switch between a variety of genres. In 2006, he went from the true-crime drama to the monster movie with The Host, but if you haven't seen it, don't go in expecting the usual big screen fare.
The director is fond of slightly off-kilter moments in both the narrative and the acting, which brings a deliberately comical feel to scenes of Seoul being besieged by a horrific creature. In the pivotal attack scene, Joon-ho cuts to a woman listening to her headphones as people flee in panic in the background; this is then contrasted by a group of people being trapped in a shipping container with the beast. These whiplash changes in tone are representative of Joon-ho's style.
However, there's depth too, as Joon-ho questions South Korea's treatment of the environment, particularly the sea, and humanity's culpability in its own downfall. In that sense, it owes a clear debt to the likes of Godzilla, but the style is entirely the director's own. Little wonder Tarantino also mentioned this as one of his favourite movies released between 1992 and 2009.
3. Mother (2009)
Mother (played by Hye-ja Kim) in Mother (2009)
South Korean provincial life is the key target of Joon-ho's third feature film. A brilliantly eccentric mixture of Oedipal drama, small-town observation and murder mystery, Mother (no, not the Jennifer Lawrence movie) is the kind of wonderfully oddball movie that makes most tired Hollywood product pale in comparison.
Hye-ja Kim is outstanding as the overprotective mother of the title – one convinced that her handicapped son is innocent of a crime when everyone else thinks he’s guilty. Beginning with a David Lynchian scene of Kim dancing in a cornfield and proceeding to meld genres with satirical panache, it’s genuinely unclassifiable.
As is often the case with South Korean cinema, the revelation of the mystery is but one part of the drama, the emotional repercussions of said revelation leaving a much greater impact.
4. Snowpiercer (2014)
Edgar (played by Jamie Bell) and Curtis (played by Chris Evans) in Snowpiercer (2013)
Only a director of singular character and ability could transition to an entirely different language and retain all his characteristics. It's a testament to Joon-ho that Snowpiercer, his first English-language offering, takes what could be a standard dystopian thriller and puts it through the blender to emerge as something genuinely unique.
An audience-friendly premise (train circles the world in the midst of a new ice age) is intercut with scenes of savage violence and unashamedly broad, almost pantomime character portrayals, which underscore Joon-ho's pointed sense of satire.
The movie is based on the graphic novel of the same name, and charts an exciting class uprising from the back of the Snowpiercer train to the engine at the front, taking in a host of dazzling environments (and horrific revelations) along the way. The regular shifts in the environment (lush aquariums give way to primary-coloured, gun-infested classrooms) are well-matched to the unpredictable storyline. And the cast is terrifically engaged: Chris Evans is the reluctant leader, with Tilda Swinton as the hilarious, Yorkshire-accented baddie. Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer and Ed Harris also start.