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Sunday, June 2, 2019

Gisaengchung - BONG Joon-ho's existenchial Parasite

BONG Joon-ho's 'Gisaengchung' ('Parasite' / '기생충') is perfectly written, filmed, and played. At times a bit too much, but only because BONG happens to be a great author, a great filmmaker, and a great director.

Before getting to that, let's push a couple of things out of our way: first, I won't give away any spoilers, and second, this is more a dark comedy than a tragicomedy. Not a new genre (very distant echoes of IM Sang-soo's 'The Housemaid', or KIM Ki-duk's '3 iron'), but a brilliant Korean movie with a universal reach. BONG proves he remains a league of his own with a unique, very theatrical object (think Feydeau meet 'Arsenic and old lace')*, and before all else, the heck of a cinematographic masterpiece. 

Is this truly BONG's chef d'oeuvre? his best movie ever? It doesn't supersede 'Memories of Murder' as my favorite Korean movie yet, but certainly made it already to my top 3**. I can't tell for sure: unlike for 'Snowpiercer' or even 'The Host', I had such great expectations for this one (even before it got the Palme d'Or in Cannes), and there's so much to take in at once.

Even as you watch Gisaengchung, you feel this narrative and visual overload. BONG forces you to realize that the gimchi will somehow hit the fan, to want to know, among all possible worst case scenarios, which one will prevail, and to enjoy the ever darker humor first permeating, then overflowing this over-the-top gem.

That may be it: an overpowering trainwreck feeling that makes the movie work, and at the same time makes you want to slow down to appreciate each and every detail. You're enjoying it too much, to the point you can't enjoy it enough. And as soon as the movie is over, you want to watch it ten more times. Lucky Darcy Paquet, who watched it seven times to deliver the English subtitles***... and cursed Darcy, who had to keep everything all to himself until the movie was released!

So kudos to BONG Joon-ho the author, for keeping us under his spell, and for delivering another powerful social satire, But also kudos to BONG Joon-ho the filmmaker, for implanting haunting images and other sensorial stimulations inside our brains (best rain pandemonium ever, best olfactory effects ever). And kudos to BONG Joon-ho the director for getting the best from an outstanding cast.

CHOI Woo-sik (Ki-woo), SONG Kang-ho (Ki-taek), JANG Hye-jin (Chung-sook), PARK So-dam (Ki-jung)
Of course, BONG can thank SONG once more: his favorite actor SONG Kang-ho proved again that he was a genius at playing dumb in a thousand different and creative ways. 

But what to say of the women in this movie! Yes, the versatile LEE Jung-eun steals the show, like the multifaceted Miranda Richardson did in Spider, but did she really need that Ri Chun-hee impersonation, or was that just BONG's special bonus for Western audiences? And if the confident PARK So-dam and the insecure CHO Yeo-jeong were absolutely perfect in their roles, I was totally bluffed by JANG Hye-jin's performance as Gisaengchung's unsung cornerstone, between this stinky basement full of life, and that cold, bright mansion. Too early to tell if the young JUNG Ziso is the new Doona BAE.

If the male side looks weaker, that's because the roles demand it, starting with CHOI Woo-sik's or JUNG Hyeon-jun's. Yet LEE Sun-kyun portrayed a credible Chairman PARK.

Gisaengchung poster
The French poster for Cannes Festival

So go watch this brilliant epic. And let yourself get infected.

Seoul Village 2019
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* so theatrical, they even invited PARK Jeong-ja's voice to the trailer ** even if I can't kick anyone out of my "Seoul Village Movies"
*** again, Darcy, you had a Deborah Smith / Han Kang moment with this one!

'Unexpected director's cut: Agnes Varda welcomes you to KU Cinematheque' (20190531 -

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