Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
Original title: Gisaengchung
Academy Awards 2019. Boston Film Critics Awards 2019. Cannes Film Festival 2019. Dorian Awards 2019. Independent Spirit Awards 2019. Las Vegas Film Critics Awards 2019. National Board of Review Awards 2019. National Society of Film Critics Awards 2019. New York Film Critics 2019. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2019. Online Film Critics Awards 2019. Philadelphia Film Critics Awards 2019. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2019. Producers Guild Awards 2019. Screen Actors Guild Awards 2019. Toronto International Film Festival 2019. Washington Film Critics Awards 2019., . , , , , . Screenplay by , . Cinematography by . Produced by Joon-ho Bong, , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .
The material world tells us that the acquisition of money and the fine things it can buy are the only things separating us from feeling like we have outrun our problems, but Bong Joon-ho’s darkly humorous explorations of class consciousness tell us otherwise (and do so in crafty and clever ways, such as his wonderfully imaginative films The Host and Okja). This masterful film, which deservedly received a Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, shows Bong at the peak of his creative powers, the story of a family of four strivers, parents and a son and daughter, who live in their filthy “semi-basement” in a bad neighbourhood in Seoul and are fully preoccupied with the ways they must come up with to make and save money. Son Ki-woo, intelligent and skilled despite not having completed his education, sees the opportunity to get ahead when an upper class school chum asks him to take over as private tutor to the daughter of a wealthy family; Ki-woo does so and, once in, turns his new employment to the advantage of his whole family. The well-meaning but naïve matriarch of the clan, who is counterbalanced by her decent but negligent husband, is wholly impressed by Ki-Woo’s abilities teaching her lovelorn teenage daughter and takes his advice when he tells her to get an art teacher for her younger son. This makes it possible for his sister Ki-jung to step in as a tough drawing instructor before their parents set their sight on both the family’s chauffeur and housekeeper. This anti-heroic clan’s accomplishing of this goal provides for some very macabre comedy, but it’s right when you get comfortable indulging in their naughtiness that Bong flips the narrative on its ear and plunges you into fear and uncertainty; on the night that the boss family has gone on a camping trip and our protagonists are whooping it up in their gorgeous mansion, a figure from the recent past shows up at their doorstep and the story starts taking such stiletto-sharp twists that the viewer might get whiplash from the shock. The result is that our belief that money can replace our anxieties about class turns out to be our own delusion, and this film’s only flaw is that Bong works this message out to rather too easily deconstructed a moment in the very violent climax, recalling his straightforward and almost pedantic Snowpiercer and defying the visual and narrative originality that the movie has been enjoying for so long. That he does so, however, is easily forgiven, and won’t prevent it from being one of the most memorable movie experiences you’ve ever had.