Ki-woo and his family, the Kims, live in a basement and barely scrape a living folding pizza boxes. They get what seems to be a lucky break when Ki-woo is offered the chance to become an English tutor for the daughter of the rich Park family, his sister Ki-jeong forging a college student identity to get him started. He then plans to bring the rest of his family into the Parks’ employment, finding ways to get their household staff dismissed and replaced. However this proves to be a risky strategy and it turns out the Kim family are not the only ones with secrets.
Bong Joon-Ho’s thriller won the Palme D’Or at Cannes last year and went on to win the Best Picture Oscar – the first non-English-language film to do so. It was also panned by Donald Trump (so far the only Home Alone 2 cast member to be impeached). It’s an extraordinary movie worthy of all these accolades, hitting many different notes – comedy, intrigue, heist, psychodrama, thriller and tragedy – while still telling a well-written and compelling story accelerating towards a dramatic finale.
The acting is superb, often understated rather than melodramatic. Many performances stand out, particularly Song Kang-ho as the father of the Kims. I thought Cho Yeo-jeong’s performance as the impressionable Mrs. Park could have been played purely for comedy value but instead she comes across as sympathetic even when she falls for every trick or scam Ki-woo and the others can come up with, and it becomes clear that she is driven by her own insecurities.
Everyone in this story has different insecurities, and this is one of the many ways the movie explores its main theme of the social divide. It has a lot to say about this, and is far more interesting than simply moaning about the disproportionate wealth of the 1%, although the attitudes of the Park family towards poor people are made clear in some very tense scenes.
As with Bong Joon-Ho’s horror movie The Host, reviewed here and also starring Song Kang-ho, this movie centres on a family rather than the loners, romantic couples, friendship groups or mis-paired workers that feature in Western movies. It's fair to say that the Kims are less dysfunctional than the family of the Host. I don’t know enough about Korean culture to know if this is reflective, perhaps of a stronger family-orientated culture or a typical theme of Korean movies. Train To Busan, another Korean horror movie directed by Yeon Sang-ho, reviewed here, centres on a father-daughter bond.
I enjoyed this movie from start to finish, and no doubt Bong Joon-Ho will be happy to add the coveted Sci-Fi Gene three stars out of five to his packed trophy shelf.
Score: 3 out of 5 stars
All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars.