PARASITE. We are truly living in a golden age of scammers. Behold the sea of catfishing schemes, the jet-setting Anna Sorokin enjoyed on the tabs of rich Manhattanites by posing as a German heiress and the puffed-up conman we've installed in the White House, from whence he uses his position to fill his coffers and those of his offspring. So it makes sense that an incisive look at humanity as it stands might come from the scammer's point of view. In the tense and explosive Parasite, South Korean writer and director Bong Joon Ho (Okja, 2017; Snowpiercer, 2013) holds a mirror to show us the cunning, fictions and bonds by which we survive, as well as the class system, doomed to erupt, in which rich and poor feed on each other.
The Kim family is broke as hell, reduced to crouching in a corner of their basement apartment's bathroom to use a neighbor's wi-fi. Father Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), mother Chung-sook (the alternately warm and steely Hye-jin Jang), son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) and daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park) are all unemployed but cheerfully unashamed, and blessed with the gift of grift. When a friend of the family offers to pass on a gig tutoring a wealthy high school girl to Ki-woo, he's hesitant at first but, with a little help from his sister forging a university enrollment document, he takes to it like a natural. Besides, he reasons, he'll go to university soon enough to make the lie true. In contrast to the Kims' cramped slum, the Park family's home is an architectural masterpiece with an open, spare aesthetic that embodies the ultimate luxury in Asian cities: empty space and sunlight. As Kevin the tutor, he impresses the fragile, neurotic Mrs. Park (a bird-like Yeo-jong Jo) and charms her daughter (Ji-so Jung) with Tony Robbins-level bullshit. Seeing an opening, he off-handedly makes up and sells the mother on Jessica, a sought-after children's art teacher for her rambunctious little boy. Ki-jung easily takes up the role with cool authority, alternately playing on Mrs. Park's pride and anxieties. One by one, the Kim family ousts and replaces the household staff with such inspired scheming and disciplined execution one wonders why they were ever poor. Little by little, maintaining the boundaries Mr. Park (Sun-kyun Lee) insists on, they become trusted members of the household. It's only when they begin to imagine themselves belonging in the Parks' world and we glimpse their messy desperation and capacity for sudden violence that we know the false life they've constructed lie by lie around this wealthy family cannot hold. The sterile perfection of the Park household, too, is a fiction that will collapse when secrets bubble to the surface.
It's impossible not to enjoy the Kim family's exploits and even the parents' disturbing pride in their offspring's capacity for conning is contagious. But when things go sideways, Bong deftly shifts gears and keeps the tension high with dizzying camerawork and close calls — do all your breathing in the first half of the movie. The performances are uniformly impressive but Song's is a standout as we watch him come to understand how his employer, whom he comes to admire, sees him and how the stench of poverty will always cling to him — it's devastating to watch him experience real shame for the first time. Likewise, Choi turns out a stunning portrayal of a young man confronting his self-delusions and the plans he'll never make happen.
Bong spares neither his characters nor his audience anything. Everyone, the wealthy Parks included, is playing at being someone else to escape their reality: The poor play house in the mansion while the rich fantasize about the seedy lives of their employees. And the dream of escaping the dankness of life in the basement is as futile as the worship of those who dwell above in the sunlight. (In Korean with subtitles.) R. 132M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
*Due to the holiday, updated listings were not available for Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna. See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
KNIVES OUT. Rian Johnson directs Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans and Toni Collette in a whodunnit black comedy with stabby rich folk. PG13. 130M. FORTUNA, MINOR.
WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954). Holiday tunes with Bing. NR. 120m. BROADWAY.
21 BRIDGES. Chadwick Boseman stars as a cop on a manhunt who discovers a police conspiracy in a totally locked down Manhattan. R. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
CHARLIE'S ANGELS. Reboot with Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska and Elizabeth Banks, as well as the requisite costume changes and explosions. PG13. 118M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
DOCTOR SLEEP. Ewan McGregor stars as grown-up Danny Torrance facing vague forces of evil in a plodding, meandering adaptation of Stephen King's sequel to The Shining. R. 152M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
FANTASTIC FUNGI. Mycological documentary with time-lapse footage of mushrooms and a dive into their history. NR. 81M. MINIPLEX.
FORD VS. FERRARI. Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in an excellent true-story drama about an engineer and a driver perfecting a racecar in a years-long grudge match. With engaging performances and exhilarating racing sequences. PG13. 152M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
FROZEN 2. Elsa and Anna return for more snowbound sisterly adventure and to put that song back in your head. PG. 104M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE GOOD LIAR. Ian McKellan stars as a confidence man who falls for his wealthy mark (Helen Mirren) and everything goes to hell. R. 149M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE IRISHMAN. Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese's drama about a Hoffa-connected hitman. R. MINOR.
IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Tom Hanks dons the cardigan of Mr. Rogers in this biopic that's probably wholesome enough to give you strong bones and healthy teeth. PG. 108. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
JOJO RABBIT. Director Taika Waititi's satire about a Hitler youth recruit (Roman Griffin Davis) whose goofy imaginary friend is Hitler (Waititi) and who struggles with his beliefs when he finds his mother is hiding a Jewish girl. PG13. 108M. MINOR.
JOKER. The supervillain gets the sympathetic (but not vindicating) origin story treatment with an excellent and creepy Joaquin Phoenix amid a grimy, brutal Gotham. With Robert DeNiro calling up King of Comedy vibes. R. 121M. BROADWAY.
LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE. Documentary about the iconic singer. With Bonnie Raitt and Dolly Parton, so go and be blessed. PG13. 95M. MINIPLEX.
MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL. Angelina Jolie is back in the horns to block Aurora's (Elle Fanning) wedding and throw down with Michelle Pfeiffer. With a winged Chiwetel Ejiofor. PG. 119M. BROADWAY.
MIDWAY. Ed Skrein and Patrick Wilson as U.S. Navy pilots in the key battle over the Pacific during World War II. PG-13. FORTUNA.
PLAYING WITH FIRE. John Cena, Keegan-Michael Peele and John Leguizamo star in a comedy about smoke jumpers saddled with a trio of kids. PG. 96M. MILL CREEK.
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE. Linda Hamilton returns to battle more robots from the future with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis and Edward Furlong. R. 128M. BROADWAY.
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP. Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin return for the deceptively well-written, better acted sequel to the action comedy. R. 93M. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill