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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY NEON“Parasite” a leading contender in 2020 Oscars foreign feature film category. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY NEON“Parasite” a leading contender in 2020 Oscars foreign feature film category.

Movie Review: South Korea tragicomedy an Oscar contender

Friday, November 15, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

“Parasite” is a powerful piece of film-making. It’s uncompromising cinema. This is a level of film-making far above most films, and beyond the reach of most film-makers.

The psychological thriller will have you on the edge of your theater seat almost from the beginning to the end of the film.

The acting is flawlessly naturalistic. The cinematography (director of photography Kyung-pyo Hong) is intensely personal. The pacing (film editor Jinmo Yang; production designer Ha-jun Lee) is unexpected. The soundtrack (composer Jaeil Jung) is beautiful.

The film has moments of cynically-derived humor that somewhat leavens the mayhem. Yes, there is mayhem.

“Parasite” will resonate with you long after you depart the movie theater. It will create lots of discussion among your fellow movie-goers.

“Parasite” premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, winning the top prize, the Palme d’Or, the first Korean film to do so. It’s South Korea’s entry in the International Feature Film category of the 92nd Academy Awards.

Look for multiple Oscar nominations for “Parasite.” As of this review, it’s the frontrunner in the foreign feature film category.

The story, set in contemporary South Korea, is about the intersection of two families. Nobody heeds the warning signals, so there’s a collision.

One family is impoverished and living in a basement apartment. The family eeks out a meager existence by folding cardboard pizza boxes.

The other family is a wealthy family living in an architect’s one-off signature modern home.

The family with no money ingratiates itself with the family with money.

The rich family’s father, Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), CEO of an IT firm, is married to Park Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo).

The story unfolds with the poor family’s son, Kim Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), being hired as an English tutor for the rich family’s teen daughter, Park Da-hye (Ji-so Jung).

Next, the poor family’s daughter, Kim Ki-jung (So-dam Park), becomes art therapist for the rich family’s pre-school age son, Park Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung).

Then, the poor family’s mother, Kim Chung-sook (Hye-jim Jang), becomes the rich family’s housekeeper, after ousting the previous housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee).

Finally, the poor family’s father, Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), becomes the rich husband’s chauffer.

This all happens seemingly naturally as far as the wealthy family is concerned, but with great subterfuge on the part of the impoverished family to make it happen.

To reveal how this happens, or what happens after this happens, would spoil your viewing of the movie.

Comparisons might help. “Parasite” has the nail-biting tension of a good Alfred Hitchcock thriller, say, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956); the grinding, long-yardage inevitability of a good Stephen King novel to film adaptation, “Misery” (1990), for example; the tragic familial themes of “Roma” (2018); the hard-edged unpredictability of “Get Out” (2017) and “Us” (2019), and the luxury-items flamboyance, at times, of “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018).

You might call it “Crazy Poor Asians” or “The Joy Unlucky Club.”

Director Joon-ho Bong (“Snowpiercer,” 2013), who co-wrote the screenplay with Han Jin Won (theatrical movie screenplay debut), has created a mix of dark comedy, desperate acquisitiveness and the transitory nature of wealth.

The film symbolically represents the extremes of wealth and poverty, references North Korean and South Korea geopolitics, and the winner-takes-all mentality of those in dire straits.

The themes have to do with the pursuit of materialism and the comfortable life. When the comfortable life clashes with the uncomfortable life, all heck breaks loose.

What does the title, “Parasite,” imply? Who are the parasites? Are they the poor family? Are they the wealthy family?

It’s almost too easy to say whether the title “Parasite” clearly refers to one family or the other.

One thing seems certain with “Parasite,” between the two families, belief systems seem to be absent, save that of a belief in and a pursuit of materialism. Even a symbolic rock, given at the start of the story, seems to only have the purpose of bringing good luck and good fortune.

Luck can only go so far. In “Parasite,” as luck would have it, it doesn’t go far enough.

“Parasite” is a cautionary tale for those who believe only in themselves, or in the luck of the draw, or in taking fate into their own hands.

A parasite, after all, is dependent on its host.

“Parasite,” MPAA rated R Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for language, some violence and sexual content ; Genre: Thriller; Run time: 2 hr., 12 min. Distributed by Neon.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Parasite” is in Korean with English subtitles.

Box Office, Nov. 8-11: “Midway” won the Veterans’ Day weekend, opening at No. 1 with only $17.5 million, with several new releases opening close behind: “Doctor Sleep,” No. 2, with $14.1 million; “Playing with Fire,” No. 3, with $12.8 million, and “Last Christmas,” No. 4, with $11.6 million, dropping “Terminator: Dark Fate” from it’s one-week opening at top of the charts down four places to No. 5, with $10.8 million, $48.4 million, two weeks.

6. “Joker” dropped four places, $9.2 million, $313.4 million, six weeks. 7. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” dropped four places, $8 million, $97.3 million, four weeks. 8. “Harriet” dropped four places, $7.2 million, $23.4 million, two weeks. 9. “Zombieland: Double Tap” dropped three places, $4.3 million, $66.6 million, four weeks. 10. “The Addams Family” dropped five places, $4.2 million, $91.4 million, five weeks. 13. “Parasite” dropped two places, $2.5 million, $11.2 million, five weeks.

Unreel, Nov. 15:

“Charlie’s Angels,” PG-13: Elizabeth Banks directs Hailee Steinfeld, Naomi Scott, Kristen Stewart and herself in the Action-Adventure remake. The female agents are called into action to stop a dangerous technology.

“Ford v Ferrari,” PG-13: James Mangold directs Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe and Jon Bernthal in the Biography Drama. American racing car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles develop the Ford GT 350 to race against Ferrari cars in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.

“The Good Liar,” R: Bill Condon directs Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey and Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson in the Drama. A con artist meets a wealthy widow.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes