BY Ethan Soffe
THE 2010s has been the most influential and exciting decade for cinema in a very long time. From the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the rise in popularity with streaming services like Netflix, and the greater focus on diversity, this decade showcased various innovations and ushered in new experiences that shaped the modern cinematic landscape. If it is possible for one film to significantly define the 2010s and its advancements, that film is PARASITE (Bong Joon-ho 2019). The South Korean film won numerous accolades including the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Best International Feature Film and Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards, becoming the first film not in the English language to achieve the latter award. These triumphs are not the only reasons why PARASITE defines the 2010s. This dark comedy highlights this decade through its story and individuality, allowing it to succeed in crossing over into mainstream popularity, where many other films have failed.
Narrative and pacing are critical to the structure of PARASITE. The film concerns the impoverished Kim family who devise a cunning plot to infiltrate the wealthy Park household by acting as highly skilled people in different jobs. This set up allows the film to delve into contemporary societal issues regarding class conflict, social inequality, and offers a strong critique on capitalism. Throughout the course of the narrative, these themes are embedded in the production design with sincerity and subtlety. Whilst the social themes of class disparity and social discrimination have been made significant in other films - for instance, TITANIC (James Cameron 1997) - PARASITE engages with these themes with its own substantial approach. Class disparity and social discrimination is demonstrated via the production design, such as in the layers that the Park mansion encapsulates. The higher floors represent luxury whilst lower floors signify poverty. The Kim family home also highlights the disparity between classes; a semi-basement apartment that is susceptible to floods and the fumes from the frequent insecticides outside. Compared to the Kim family, the Park family has a seemingly perfect lifestyle based on their wealth and solitude from other classes.
The film additionally engages with these contemporary issues by subverting narrative conventions with frequent genre blending and bending. As a dark comedy, PARASITE satires the rich. As a thriller, the film gradually reveals more intense and alarming undertones, which in a few scenes almost descend into horror once the underlying truths are uncovered. While a South Korean production, these issues can apply to any country with an economic class system. It approaches social concepts in an understandable and entertaining manner through the characterisation of the Kim family, which further invites mainstream global audiences to connect with the film. Yet, the film remains distinctive compared to Hollywood productions in its blend of genres to reveal its various secrets and nuances. The individuality of the film principally stems from director Bong Joon-ho’s bold directorial style.
Joon-ho has explored similar themes of social inequality and class conflict earlier in his career in his English language film debut SNOWPIERCER (2013). PARASITE epitomises Joon-ho’s style at his finest. His incorporation of genre-blending and black comedy is more grounded here in comparison to the apocalyptic vision demonstrated in SNOWPIERCER. These qualities distinguish his style as unique and unconventional. This genre-blending can be observed in a sequence depicting the Kim family relishing in luxury whilst insulting the wealthy, until a simple doorbell ring shifts the tone from light-hearted to sinister. These distinguishing factors create a unique and thrilling experience that enhance the accessibility and significance of the film. PARASITE’s originality stems from a point of view outside of Hollywood, which helps realise and develop awareness of international cinema. The significance of this film within mainstream cinema encourages a more collaborative and united era of cinema that recognises international films alongside Hollywood productions.
PARASITE is a monumental, decade-defining film. It connotes progressive and inventive ideals with thrilling influence from a highly creative filmmaker. The impact of PARASITE transfers beyond expressing the decade’s principles and, fundamentally, is a film that is truly worthy entry to the cinematic canon.
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