In a better world, the arrival of a new Bong Joon-ho film would inspire the same amount of cultural anticipation as a new Hitchcock film did in the 1960s. Maybe in his native South Korea, they do. Here, in the United States, he feels like one of those filmmakers who needs championing lest his films slip by, especially in anywhere not NYC and not L.A. (I’m not convinced that subtitles are a barrier these days either. Due to the poor speakers on modern TVs, don’t most people watch movies with the subtitles on even when the audience and the movie speak the same language?)
Bong’s films should be massively popular. They are every bit as entertaining as Hitchcock’s films. Parasite, Bong’s latest, is no exception. It is the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year. Bong excels at taking his narratives in unexpected directions and shifting tone rapidly along the way. The fun of Parasite is not knowing where it’s going but enjoying the ride in every moment, because every moment is so well handled. So the less you know about it going in, the better. I’ll say only this – don’t let the title or the trailer scare you off. Parasite isn’t for children, but it’s not solely for horror fans either. Again – Hitchcock.
Bong’s films have been internationally renowned for the past two decades. He has made films more obviously palatable to international audiences than Parasite. The Host, an atypical monster movie with clear Spielbergian vibes, was his breakout hit. Snowpiercer stars that guy who played “Captain America” and was one of Netflix’s first major releases. Parasite is more particular than those films. It’s interesting that this is the movie that is garnering Bong the most success and acclaim. It won the top prize at Cannes earlier this year, and it’s been selling out theaters across the country for the past couple of weeks.
I think the popularity is due in part to how specific this movie is. Like any great storyteller, Bong knows how to weave particular, nigh-personal details into symbolic, nigh-iconic situations. You connect with enough of what’s going on to keep you curious about what you don’t understand. Great songwriters do this best, like Bob Dylan or Paul Simon. Or, in the movies, again, Hitchcock. All that to say, a lot of what happens in Parasite is culturally specific, but it is also fun to learn more about another culture. You’ll learn little bits about Korean culture while you watch the film, and then you’ll learn more afterwards when you go online to read the why behind the moments you know matter in Parasite but lack the cultural awareness to fully understand.
If you are still unconvinced, I’ll add this – all of Bong’s films are about family and class and the hazards of living in a globalized world. Common concerns. They are all funny and heartbreaking and suspenseful too. Parasite includes the funniest scene I’ve seen all year—it involves a text message—the most discomfiting—it involves a coffee table—and the most heartbreaking—it involves stairs. All three of these scenes happen within fifteen minutes of each other, and all three tilt the emotional balance of the movie in unexpected ways. Parasite is a wonder. See it.