I think this might be a little bit of a hot take, but the U.S. doesn't make the best movies. Sure, we make the biggest and flashiest ones and we've got some pretty astounding filmmakers, but no other country on Earth comes close to making films of the power, complexity and sheer entertainment value as South Korea. It's like every other South Korean movie we get here in the States is an outright masterpiece.
- Photo courtesy of NEON
- Reflections are deadly in "Parasite."
Mini-primer on the big three filmmakers of South Korea:
The Godfather of South Korean cinema is Park Chan-wook, who popularized the Korean revenge genre in the U.S. with the release of his "Vengeance Trilogy" featuring "Old Boy" (2003), "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" (2002) and "Lady Vengeance" (2005). He reinvented vampire cinema with "Thirst" (2009) and the period drama with "The Handmaiden" (2016) without breaking a sweat. His style is minimal, trusting the performances to sell all his bloody mayhem.
Then we have Kim Jee-woon, who treats genre as a stepping stone to doing whatever he wants on a technical level. "A Tale of Two Sisters" (2003) is a masterful ghost story that chills in its simplicity while "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" (2008) is a Western-action treasure hunt filled with breathtaking action and ridiculous slapstick. This was followed by "I Saw the Devil' (2010), a nasty serial killer flick that's my favorite film of the century so far. Kim never does the same thing twice.
Finally, there's the madcap genius Bong Joon-ho. Bong cares about modern Korea and the social differences between classes, so his films explore those ideas from completely different angles. "Memories of Murder" (2003) is a police procedural, "Mother" (2009) is a family tragedy, "The Host" (2006) is a monster movie and "Snowpiercer" (2013) is science fiction, but they're all profound meditations on class and privilege, dressed as blockbusters.
BONUS: Keep your eyes on Lee Chang-dong ("Burning" 2018) and Na Hong-jin ("The Wailing" (2016); they're the new school of South Korean auteurs changing the language of cinema.
Bong Joon-ho follows up his children's odyssey "Okja" (2017) with "Parasite," a blackly funny satire that's basically "Downton Abbey" for people with a sense of irony. The film follows the Kim family (led by patriarch Kim Ki-taek, played by Korea's Daniel Day-Lewis, Song Kang-ho) that all basically con their way into working for the filthy rich Park family. The Kims forge college degrees and resumes to get in the front door and become tutors, cooks and drivers for the family. Things go very well until they don't.
To tell any more of the labyrinthian plot would be criminal, but just know that the film bounces between comedy, thriller and horror effortlessly, and Bong's visual language is without equal by any filmmaker in the U.S. His camera glides effortlessly between moments of despairingly beautiful humanity and horrifically impersonal nihilism.
"Parasite" is a masterpiece, plain and simple; a movie that serves as allegory, while also playing as a deeply cutting and personal fairy tale about a house haunted by the living. "Parasite" will stick to your guts like a tape worm—but one that's good for you, so not like a tape worm at all. It's the good kind of uncomfortable.
Dir. Bong Joon-ho
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX