★★★★ / ★★★★
Joon-ho Bong’s black coffee comedy “Parasite” is an effective social commentary on two fronts: the great lengths we are willing to go for money and how a few of us—no—how many of us would not even think twice to step on our fellow man just to be able to climb a little higher. But the film is first and foremost riotously, endlessly entertaining. It is savagely funny parts—particularly in how it portrays the privilege of the rich and the desperation of the poor right alongside one another—occasionally suspenseful in terms of deception piling on top of one another that we know something has got to give eventually, and at times quite sad in its accurate portrayal of indigence. Perhaps the system is designed so that in order for the rich to exist and flourish, others must live and die in poverty.
Right when we lay eyes on the Kim family, we learn that they are survivors precisely because they are opportunists. And so when Ki-woo (Woo-shik Choi) is presented the chance to make good money by tutoring a high school girl (Ji-so Jeong) who comes from a well-to-do family, he seizes the role with alacrity and, because he is street-smart, eventually finds a way to get the rest of his family (Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, So-dam Park) to work for the Parks (Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Cho). The screenplay by the director and Jin-won Han is so meticulous and efficient, seeing the Kims insinuate themselves into the Park household is like watching a complex equation being reduced into its most basic form over time: elegant, logical, and mesmerizing. And then just when we think we know precisely where the plot is heading, it takes a sudden right turn.
The film’s best attribute then is two-fold: its ability to surprise and then making us follow that new direction in a way that feels comfortable or natural. I think it works because the story is not merely composed of nifty plot contortions. We are actually made to understand why the Kim family choose to take the actions that they do. When the more overt life-or-death situations face them—which they are no stranger to since they live in poverty: every day is life or death when there’s no food to put on the table—they respond how some of us might when presented with similar circumstances. We sympathize and empathize with the main characters not through dialogue—since not every member of the family is articulate—but in spending time in their sub-basement home, by looking at their oversized and tattered clothing, how they carry themselves when they are reminded of their lack of stature.
During the final stretch of the picture, notice that images which portray the animosity of the haves toward the have-nots become more prevalent and obtrusive. Extreme closeups are employed in order to highlight boiling points. And so eruption of violence is not at all unexpected. What is surprising, however, is the poetry behind the violence. Instead of action-driven—which Western pictures tend to employ regardless of whether or not the approach is appropriate—the violence here is often ugly, messy, ironic, and possessing a comic strip quality to them. They are meant to be off-kilter so that we feel uncomfortable by the horrific happenings. There is an absence of a typical catharsis. And so we must ponder why that is.
“Parasite” is not about crime or murder. It is a human story told with an observant eye for humor, irony, and tragedy. And we cannot help to watch unblinkingly because we recognize nuggets of truth in what is being portrayed. What is art but a reflection of our times?
★★ / ★★★★
“Delirious,” written and directed by Tom DiCillo, is a satire about paparazzis, tabloids and celebrities. Although it had a certain bite from time to time, it lost its way somewhere in the middle only to find its core once again toward the end. I really enjoyed watching Steve Buscemi as a photographer who wants to prove to everybody that he’s the best as what he does. There was a brilliant scene when he visited his parents’ house and neither the mom nor the dad approved of his job. Although Buscemi is convinced that what he does is art, that void inside him is never really filled because he always wants somebody (regardless of their overall importance) to tell him that he’s doing a great job. When no one feeds his ego, he goes off on rather amusing temper tantrums yet still retain a certain sadness to his situation. I also really liked Michael Pitt as an initially homeless aspiring actor who Buscemi takes under his wing and eventually rises to superstardom. Even though he eventually gains a status among celebrities and the media, he remains true to himself and that was nice to see. In most movies, characters like him get corrupted so it’s refreshing to see that change. As tension rises between Buscemi and Pitt, (Buscemi’s character declares that Pitt’s character is ungrateful for all the things he’s done when Pitt was homeless–completely unaware to the fact that he’s been nothing but a jerk/parasite) themes such as jealousy, envy, self-reflection and companionship are explored in meaningful ways. My problem with this picture is that a scene is either really good and focused or it’s really irrelevant to the overall scope of what it’s trying to satirize. If DiCillo had tweaked the middle portion a bit more (such as minimizing the “love” aspect between Pitt and Alison Lohman which felt superficial at most), this would’ve easily been a solid film. Still, this is an interesting movie with funny cameos and interesting subject matter. It’s not that I didn’t like it–I just think that it could’ve been a lot stronger with its smart script and talented actors.
★★★ / ★★★★
I was surprised by the quality of this little horror film. Directed by Toby Wilkins, “Splinter” is a story about a couple going camping on their anniversary (Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner) and are ambushed by an escaped convict (Shea Whigham) and his girlfriend (Rachel Kerbs). Initially enemies, the two couples had to team up right away after running over a creature that feeds off human and animal blood. Not to mention that it can take over its host after it feeds off the host’s blood. I was horrified because of the way the body moved when the creature was controlling its victim’s bodies. It reminded me of the possessed girl in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and those rabid zombies in “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.” Even though this is a small film, it was surprising how much gore it has. It goes to show that a script with smarts and a creative director can go a long way. I was also impressed by the acting. Even though I liked the “good guys” right away because they were cute and funny together, I also found myself feeling for the “bad guys” because of their circumstance. Another thing I liked about this film was that it didn’t even bother to explain where the creature came from. Most creature-feature films fall for the trap of having to elucidate why and how a monster came into existence. I was glad that this one did not. If one is a fan of horror movies where the characters are trapped in one place (in this case, in a gas station), the characters are smart but not above being silly, and there’s a plethora of effective thrills, “Splinter” is definitely the one to see. I couldn’t help but shudder (and maybe even squeal a bit) during some of the most intense scenes.