Parasite: Breaking the Rules of Film Genres

An Asian film that won the 2019 Grolsch People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

After winning the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Parasite, the Korean movie by director Bong Joon-ho was voted one of the top three best movies and received the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September. Parasite is the third Asian movie to ever win this award at TIFF.

Parasite is about a family with four members: Ki-teak (Song Kang-ho); his wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin); daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam); and his son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik). They are all unemployed and live together in a cramped basement. The Park family is completely opposite. They are wealthy and have two children, Da-hye and Da-song. Da-song is the second child in the family. When he was younger, he had been through some psychological trauma and began to act strangely. The two families live in different worlds until Ki-woo becomes an English tutor for Da-hye.

Culture Magazin spoke with director Bong Joon-ho and the two main actors, Song Kang-ho and Choi Woo-shik, about what made Parasite so special.

Not limited to one movie genre

Joon-ho smoothly weaves different movie genres together, including psychological, humorous, satirical, dramatic and horror. “I never planned at the beginning which part of the movie would be funny, or which part would be horror,” he said.

Those who have seen Joon-ho’s previous films are familiar with his style. Actor Song Kang-ho joked in the interview, “Director Bong Joon-ho himself is a movie genre.” Parasite is a journey of transition between genres. Each is a direction of life, unexpected yet reasonable and the audience is unable to take its eyes off the screen.

Who is the real “parasite”?

The title of the movie is an intriguing topic among viewers. Contrary to the assumption that this is a sci-fi flick, Parasite is a comedy drama about family with dark twists.

The two families create a satirical picture of the rich-poor gap in contemporary society. However, the class conflicts are revealed when the families are brought together and realize the difficulties of the other class. Joon-ho noted that it is not easy for people from different backgrounds to live together in the same space. Parasite could be considered a comedy without a clown, a tragedy with no villains.

It is difficult to say who the real “parasite” in the movie is, since in the fight for survival anyone can be put into an unfortunate situation. In society, the line between right and wrong is not always clear, and being rich or poor is not a crime. Parasite focuses on tragedies created by inequality so that viewers can interpret them individually.

Ordinary characters

Kang-ho shared, “What I like most is the familiarity of the character, that does not come from the fact the character is poor. It is just the character is someone you can encounter anytime in your daily life. It could also be yourself.” There is no specific protagonist. Instead, the connection and interaction among the characters contributes to a lifelike story. The four poor family members act according to their instincts, running after opportunities for a more fulfilling and comfortable life. Yet the life that brings opportunity also forces people to make choices, and tragedies result from those choices. Woo-shik notes, Parasite is full of new experiences and viewers are put on a rollercoaster, not knowing where the next turn of life will lead the characters.

Photos courtesy of MK2 Mile End

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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