Oscars 2020: Parasite, or the sublime analytic

I watched this one because it’s part of the Academy Award nominees. But Korean cinema and I go a long way back lol. Slight. Kasalanan ng Philippine cinema ito. But methinks I have to go back to more K-movies and watch the good ones I missed. Sige game. But first, this one.

PARASITE (2019)

d. Bong Joon-ho

s. Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won

Pitch: A poor family swindles their way slowly and one by one into a rich family’s household, posing as workers and servants with fake high credentials.

Catch: Wala! Catch it when it shows again. And PS hindi siya horror pala hahaha.

 

There’s a reason why I kinda dislike the concept of Korean cinema — because it brings back a mid-2000s flashback of when Filipino writers were not trusted by the networks (okay, maybe just this one network) to produce originals kaya pinapamina sa amin ang mga Korean telenovelas and movies to get ideas there and turn it into local screen fare (a.k.a. “adapt” daw). As if hindi marunong mag-isip ng original concepts ang mga Pinoy scriptwriters, right??? Kakainis. Pero dahil maraming lumabas na magagandang Korean films at the start of that decade (remember the phenomenal My Sassy Girl saka of course the interesting Il Mare which Hollywood adapted into The Lake House), I also caught some of them.

But my hugot aside, there truly have been Korean gems and my former film students have been tipping me about them before in class kaya pinapanood ko ang recommendations nila. For Parasite, peeps in my social media feeds have been mentioning this a lot last year so I finally watched it na rin to see the buzz. Iniiwasan ko pa naman ito dati kasi akala ko Asian horror ito ehhh hahaha (kasi kapag Asian horror, mas nakakatakot teh!). ‘Yun pala, it’s from the same director who gave us that interesting film Snowpiercer na napanood ko sa sinehan with my mum. My film buff contacts say that Parasite is not even the best film of this director daw, but I won’t go all auteur theory muna for now because this film alone bears dissecting on its own merits.

First: the story. Since I’m a scriptwriter by training and trade, I really focus on the story aspect of the film first before anything else. Cinematography is a second love, so there’s also that. Both aspects were delivered well here, methinks. The production design also helped to visualize the intriguing story very well. Imagine a poor and down-on-their-luck family of four mooching free wifi from neighbors while living in a basement-like space that’s cramped, dirty, and below street level. So when it rains and their windows are open, flood galore! Pinoys can surely relate to this scene sa film because it’s a reality we face, too. And yeah, same goes for the poverty in this film.

OBB pa lang, malinaw na ang establishment ng setting and character. The small detail about the socks, how they are hung, and where. Cinema speaks a thousand words with a single shot like this. Precious.

I like the way the characterizations of each of the family members were developed, and later weave into the characterizations of the others in the family, then others in the story pa, to create that very tight rope that you will hold on to as you watch the film progress, taking you to each plot point with believability and honesty na rin. The write-ups always say it’s a satire, but really, I don’t see it as such. It’s more of a social commentary on how the rich/poor divide creates symbiotic kinds of connections which eventually turn parasitic — or maybe they were parasitic to begin with, without them being conscious of it.

The story opens with a poor family trying to swindle their way into working for a rich family. It started with the (I assume) college-age son kasi he has a university student na friend who asks him to sub for him sa pag-tutor ng English sa isang teenage girl ng isang alta na pamilya. Since magaling ang college-age sis ni boylet na mag-photoshop, gumawa sila ng fake credentials for the son to work as the replacement English tutor. Later, nag-pitch si son na may kilala daw siyang art therapist para sa preteen boy ng alta family, so mamaya dalawa na silang employed sa alta house — pero under the pretense na hindi sila magkamag-anak kundi magkakilala lang. Then si ategurl naman, nag-set up ng patibong para mahulog ang driver ng alta pamilya at masisante. Tapos ang papalit sa kanya, ‘yung tatay nilang nagtrabahong driver din dati. Tapos si tatay naman, nag-set up din para machugi ang longtime female kasambahay ng alta pamilya, and you guessed it, ipinasok naman as sub ang asawa ng tatay. Lahat sila ginawan ng fake credentials and papers kaya pasok sila. So ayan, apat na silang nagtatrabaho doon.

Naloka ako sa mooching wifi na eksenang ito hahaha. And it’s beautifully shot but not in your Cinemalaya indie way hahahaha oh you know what I’m talking about. Char! Congats sa PD talaga sa film na itey! Gujab!

What’s interesting in this film is the fact that it dissects the rich-poor divide using the vividness of our senses. One major thing that caught my attention is the discourse on smells, na may amoy daw itong driver, sabi ni alta menchu amo. Dini-discuss niya sa asawa niya, at true enough, naamoy nga ni alta madir nung siya naman ang pinagmaneho. I think this is a very Asian thing to discuss in this manner, so I found it very interestingly laid out here. I’m not sure if westerners would get this nuance, but maybe yeah, in a different context or interpretation maybe. I dunno, but I just find this very Asian, because it’s also a predominant Pinoy discourse. Alam mo ‘yung chikahang “amoy-mayaman” and all that? That’s what I’m talking about. Ito naman, amoy-mahirap ang peg. Galing lang.

I like this scene. Nagbihis ang poor tatay who posed as a high-class driver, nag-a-apply pa lang siya dito. Pero later, kahit nakapormal siya nang ganito, naaamoy pa rin ng mga richina galore ang “amoy-mahirap” scent ni kuya. Interesting.

Since the cinematography and production design worked well in visualizing the concept, the semiotics of the film appeared clearly here. The cramped poor space versus the spacious rich space was utilized very well to help characterize the situations of the people. And then, of course, the existence of the secret basement beneath the rich family’s house became sort of the middle ground kung saan nagtuos ang dalawang kampo — without the first camp even knowing it. So dito papasok ‘yung obvious concept of the parasite wherein the former longtime servant pala is hiding her husband sa basement na ito, mooching off food and living quarters unknowingly. Hindi alam ng rich family ang existence ng basement, let alone ng hidden hubby ni dating kasambahay. Then on the flip side, this is also where the parasitic is reversed because if you analyze the rich family’s life naman, they are also very dependent on the existence of people who belong in lower classes — as their servants nga lang. They need these people to help them maintain the spic and span-ness of their rich spaces, and help them run their lives within such spaces. So the parasitic becomes symbiotic na rin in a way. They dislike each other’s social class but they’re also dependent on each other as well — stalemate for life. I don’t know if western countries could relate to this symbiosis as much as we in Asia could, since we grow up with such scenarios in our culture. I remember discussing this with a North American friend before and she saw it as slavery. Kaya ewan lang kung ano ang take ng western audience ng film na ito sa aspetong ito ng kuwento.

Space becomes the final frontier pala sa dalawang families na tampok dito, and of course it had to happen in this rich family’s space.

Grabe sa kahitik sa kuwento, di ba? Ang daming pinupuntahan nito pero hindi siya sanga-sanga lang na walang direksiyon. Alam ng bawa’t sanga kung saan siya dapat tutubo, at alam nila kung saang convergence sila dapat yayabong. At ito na nga ang directing prowess dahil sa convergence na ito makikita ang magandang pulso ng directing. Alam niya kung saan dapat nakatutok ang camera at paano, kung gaano kahaba ang isang eksena at kung kelan ito dapat i-edit/cut, pati pasok ng musical score at siyempre galaw at blocking ng mga artista. Na magagaling ang lahat ng umarte dito ay major detail na di rin dapat palampasin. Dapat may nominations din ang mga ito sa ibang Oscars category hello, pero ewan lang.

I like how the pacing delivered the right laughs when it intended for us to laugh, and delivered the suspense when it intended for us to be on the edge of our seat and root for the poor family to not be discovered in their modus operandi. What I also liked is that it showed the poverty of the family yet it didn’t ask us to pity them in their situation. Even when we know they were swindling the rich family, we are not forced to pity them or condone them even. It’s more of a “see what this kind of person would do in a situation like this” kind of invitation: as a witness. Witness to their poverty, witness to their desperation, and witness to their survival tactics. And this is when it gets interactive for us: as we continue to witness, we develop our own feelings about it/them. No heavyhanded spoonfeeding here, folks. Hollywood and Pinoy cinema better sit up and take notice; this is the element that snags them awards. And more important than awards — audiences.

Attention: This is not your tito’s poverty porn film hahahaha. Oh you know what I’m talking about (hashtag pang-Cannes lang!). Scenes like these remind me of Lino Brocka’s films. If you think digital indie films started this “trend” din, utang na loob panoorin niyo mga pelikula ni Brocka k.

There’s a lot to discuss pa here but some details are better left unsaid so you’d enjoy the film in a fresh way. Spoilers kasi if I divulge, kaya diskubrehin niyo na lang. It’s a great watch, pramis! Trust me, me na hindi mahilig sa Korean films pero eto, championing this one. Sakto lang kasi siya sa social commentary at sakto rin sa entertainment value (lalo na ‘yung sa pa-climax and denouement, abangan!).

And I’m so glad it won bigtime sa Oscars this year. Major awards at that — original screenplay, directing, best international film, and best picture. Asia is happy for you, South Korea. At least this Filipino is. Makiki-osmosis na lang siguro kami sa cinema ninyo, dahil dedo na ang mga tunay na artista ng bayan na pupuwedeng lumaban sa larangang iyan. Well, sana lang may naturuan akong isang iskolar ng bayan dati na puwedeng gampanan din sa hinaharap ang role na iyan. But until then, I’ll just watch whatever comes my way.

So yeah, watch this one! Go!

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