At his core, Bong Joon Ho tells dark fables, whether they are original stories like Okja or visually arresting adaptations like Snowpiercer. Parasite may have a more realistic setting but its contrivances develop with the sense of otherworldly allegory and stark contrasts that imbue Jordan Peele’s films, from the sun-filled spacious architecture of the affluent Parks’ house to the Kims’ cramped basement home. Tone is vital to this kind of social satire. Initially Parasite is a light-hearted con as an out-of-work family gradually grift their way into the employ of a wealthy one. A middle sequence in which one family hides from another in a house is reminiscent of Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron, with absurd comedy underpinned by violent stakes. This shift becomes increasingly dark and out-of-control as greed, expectation and resentment bubble to the surface. Parasite nails its pacing, feeling briefer than its running time of over two hours; this, coupled with its wonderful cinematography and accessible, highly relevant class satire, has secured its international acclaim.
“If you can’t remember then it’s better to forget.”
Snowpiercer is fresh high-concept science fiction that arrived a few years ahead of its time with an admittedly unsubtle allegorical tale of climate-induced revolution as the destitute rise up. Director Joon-Ho Bong adapts a French graphic novel with a confident blend of Korean and Western sensibilities that needs to viewed texturally in the manner of Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Terry Gilliam. Logical interrogation of the implausible story will invariably lead to disappointment, but the violent journey through this train — hurtling ceaselessly through a frozen wasteland — is filled with tension and fabulous imagery. The revolution’s success seems ever balanced on a knife-edge, but as they advance each carriage presents its own distinctive diorama full of wonderful details. Chris Evans carries the audience as the reluctant hero, supported by a host of venerable British talent, including John Hurt and a riotously hammy Tilda Swinton. More than the sum of its parts, it was perhaps inevitable that the creative yet bleak Snowpiercer left critics more enamoured than audiences.