Parasite: Mastering the Basics of Cinema | Video Essay


There is a lot of buzz surrounding the South Korean film Parasite Previously known for The Host and Snowpiercer Director Bong Joon-ho has a knack for creating genre films And making them feel like art pieces And with Parasite He continues to prove his talent and status As one of the greatest living directors The best part is Bong’s directorial style is simple, direct and often very blunt Basic but highly effective That makes his films excellent case studies for young filmmakers And film students That’s what we are going to do today Let’s look at Parasite And how Director Bong Joon-ho Through his mastery on the basic language of cinema Elevates his film into art house classics Before we start I highly recommend you go watch this film first It is still in cinema around the world I’ll try not to spoil any major events in the film But it’s definitely worth it to go in with no prior knowledge Got it? First, a quick summary Parasite is a 2019 South Korean dark comedy crime thriller The film follows the exceptionally poor Kim family And the story of them scamming their way into being hired by a rich family It’s simple, if not pulp-y set up for a film
about class struggle But If you actually watch Bong’s film It feels nothing like a pulp fiction In fact, it feels quite artistic How did he do that? First, There’s the cinematography Mainly the movement and the angle of the camera The film opens with a shot of the window close to the ground And it sinks even further down to introduce our character Right away, you know he is from a poor family The camera is literally showing you that this man is living lower than the low It appears to be one of Bong’s favourite techniques And it is used extensively in Snowpiercer Although in that film, it’s left and right With characters moving to the right as a sign of progress Anyway, the film continues And we see him trying to connect to wifi from surrounding shops Notice how the camera is situated slightly higher than the character And pointing downward, just a little This makes the character appears smaller And thus, weaker Basic cinematography While basic Bong uses these techniques with obsessive consistency Later, when the son is about to get hired He walks up the hill And in between these two shots First looking down And then looking up It marks the transition for the character When he set foot into the rich household for the first time The camera moves up and points up at the character As if he is ascending into higher social status The camera can just as easily films him from the front And you get the added bonus of seeing the actor’s facial performance But Bong chose to maintain consistency And films from behind Seeing the character walking into the light Light is another basic element of cinematography And in Bong’s films, the use of light is just as blunt and simple Either there is light Or there isn’t Not much nuance, but the intend is always clear See when the son heads out to the rich family In this shot, he is quite literally walking into the light When he is up the hill, he also stays at the brightest part of the image All this leads to him walking into the house And the light is so bright It just floods the entire frame Hell, you don’t even see the house at first You just see the blinding light of a bright future By utilizing these basic but important techniques The film tells its story and theme not just via actions and dialogues But also visually, metaphorically That sets this film apart from the mass produced entertainment film Now that we know about all three techniques Let’s take a look at this sequence It’s storming outside And the family has to run back home What did the camera do? It once again, sinks down to the bottom You can see the camera either points down Or remains level Except this shot The poor family discovers their home has been flooded by sewage In a moment of defeat There is clarity For this one shot shows the character… truly empowered Finally, the family leaves their home And the camera is shot at the highest angle possible Looking straight down Showing the characters at their smallest Weakest Most insignificant Equally important is the mise-en-scene What and where things are placed in each shot For example In this shot, the son character meets with his friend See how both roads on screen a going uphill And they are meeting at the low point? The motif of high vs low is maintained even
when the camera is leveled and static Consistency It is so consistent It’s even a bit comical In the rain sequence Every shot in the family’s journey home They never once go up hill The road is always leading downward As if the entire city is built vertically Of course, that isn’t the only motif in the film Another motif is, “the line” “But he crossed the line at the end” This line that separates the rich from the poor Manifests itself a few times on screen When the son first see the lady of the rich
family We have this shot This line created by two panels of window glasses Separates the common folks from the rich lady The poor son and the housekeeper on one side The lady on the other Notice when the housekeeper wakes up the lady How she seems very reluctant to cross this line This line continues for the next few shots Slicing the screens in half here And here And when they ascend the stairs Walking into the light again, by the way The pillar splits them still Even when they are walking together The lines on the ceiling and the floor separate them Finally, the son manages to impress the lady And we have this shot The camera moves The son crosses over This line would reappear and disappear a few
times Depending on whether or not the poor family is accepted into the rich household And finally, at the end When the son is having an inner struggle Split between his forged rich persona And poor identity We have this shot Simple, blunt, yet direct An effective way to bring poetry into your film But beyond all these fancy schmancy poetries and metaphors There is one even more basic approach to make your film artistic Just make it look good Spend the effort Be creative How do you film a dialogue scene? Do you just do the boring old over the shoulder back and forth? You can definitely do that Bong does it, too But he also puts his characters side by side Do the characters have a connection? Cut between them if they don’t Show them in one frame if they do Use perspective to your advantage Putting your characters at the vanishing point is always a strong composition Create depth through layering Foreground Midground Background Even in the smallest space Depth is always an option Be dynamic Go wide with your wides Get close with your close ups Hell, go wide with your close ups At least you are doing something different Film it straight on Film it from the side Film it from the top Go slow motion Whatever you do Don’t settle with the standard formula Is Bong and his cinematographer geniuses For coming up with all these beautiful shots? Maybe Maybe not Because gifted or not You are going to have to spend a lot of time designing and perfecting every shot In short There is no easy way to elevate your film into art house status The real question is Do you have the patience to do it? Hopefully, now you enjoy the film even more Without going into spoilers It’s hard to do a story analysis Maybe one day, I’ll come back to this film But for now, I’ll say this This is not Bong’s first time tackling the theme of class struggles But compared to the relatively black and white Snowpiercer Or straight up painting the government as evil Parasite is certainly much more nuance in tackling the subject Showing much more on how and why people commit acts of evil “The sky is clear and the air is clean” “Thanks to the rain last night” And let’s you decide who’s the villain of the story Yes The blunt and direct writer director Is learning how to be nuance If one of our top living directors are still learning My fellow filmmakers and film students We should probably pick up the slack, too Let’s all make good movies

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