Movie review: Even mainstream audiences will enjoy Cannes winner 'Parasite'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Aug 14 2019 12:21 PM | Updated as of Aug 14 2019 12:22 PM

A scene from 'Parasite' 

MANILA -- Usually, we need to wait for an indie film fest to be able to see the winner of the Palm d'Or in the Cannes film festival. However, this year's winner is actually showing exclusively in selected SM Cinemas and that is a pleasant surprise. It is certainly not common that the Palm d'Or winner can be engaging and enjoyable to both artsy and mainstream audiences alike, like Bong Joon Ho's "Parasite."

Out of work, driver Kim Ki-taek lived with his wife Choong Sook and two college-age children in a dirty sub-basement apartment in abject poverty. However, when his son Ki-woo was accepted as an English tutor for the daughter of a super-wealthy family, the Parks, he somehow managed to get his whole resourceful family employed as well. However, their wholesale underhanded subterfuge was not going to stay undiscovered for long.

I had seen most of South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho's filmography, from "Barking Dogs Never Bite" (2000), "Memories of Murder" (2003), "The Host" (2006), "Mother" (2009), to his international breakthrough "Snowpiercer" (2013) and his Netflix opus "Okja" (2017). His works were audacious, darkly comic affairs yet they are still grounded with family sentiments and heart. His latest work "Parasite" did not deviate far from his winning formula, and has, in fact, won him the Palm d'Or.

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Popular multi-awarded Korean lead actor Song Kang-ho was Bong's star in "Memories of Murder," "The Host," "Snowpiercer" and now again in "Parasite." As the patriarch Kim Ki-taek, Song again drew on his uncanny ability to subtly mix humor in with the dramatic situations his character got into, making audiences connect and care with him, no matter how flawed this character was. Kim was a man who believed that life is best lived unplanned, and Song convinces us of this mantra.

As Kim's lower-class family, Jang Hye-jin (as Choong-sook), Choi Woo-shik (as Ki-woo) and Park So-dam (as Kim Ki-jung) were all at their "jologs" best, Korean style. Ms. Park was especially remarkable for her portrayal of pseudo art psychotherapist Jessica, very convincing. On the other end, Lee Sun-kyun and Cho Yeo-jeong played the elegant but clueless millionaires Mr. and Mrs. Park, who could not pinpoint something right in front of their noses. Lee Jung-eun was a bipolar delight as the Park's housekeeper Gook, who fell from grace because of the Kim's shenanigans.

Last year's Palm d'Or winner "Shoplifters" from Japan also tackled the topic of poverty and the dishonestly that arose from it. "Parasite" goes beyond that and juxtaposes the poverty of a family living in a dirty sub-basement in stark contrast with a family living in a posh hilltop mansion. Aside from dark comedy and family drama, this was also a sharp social commentary. 

This film also touched on several other genres in passing -- from edge-of seat suspense, to violent crime thriller, going even sexy at one point. All in all, this one has something for everyone in one thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking package.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."