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I can’t remember which of the two films I watched first: Memories of Murder (2003) by Bong Joon-ho or David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac. The two films share a lot of similarities. Both are about serial murders that actually happened: the series of killings Bong’s film is about took place between 1986 and 1991, while Fincher’s film is focused on the manhunt for the Zodiac Killer, who was active in the Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Both are more interested in the investigation than in the killer, and in the individuals conducting the investigation (the protagonists of Bong’s film are the three police officers hunting for a rapist and murderer of women, while Fincher splits the difference between the San Francisco detectives, the journalist Paul Avery and the cartoonist Robert Graysmith). And, importantly, both films present the audience with very likely suspects to then withhold from us a confirmation that it is really this man, or that guy, who committed these murders. Much like the protagonists, we are left with a sense of frustration and unease.
This isn’t how crime thrillers are supposed to work. If we don’t know whodunnit at the end, what was the point?
And that, exactly, is the point.
Warning: The following contains spoilers for Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder. If you’ve yet to see the film, don’t read this post but go and watch Memories of Murder. Without wanting to put down my own posts: the film is much, much better.
You have to give it to them: the Kims, the protagonists of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, are nothing if not resourceful. At the suggestion of a friend, the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) pretends to be a student in order to get a position as the English tutor for the daughter of a wealthy couple, complete with photoshopped diploma. It doesn’t take long and he’s introduced his sister Ki-jeong (Park So-Dam) to the Park family and she takes on the job of being the youngest child’s art therapist. It’s amazing how you can fake expertise with little more than Google skills and a knack for improvisation. Before long, the entire family – Ki-woo, Ki-jeong and the parents Ki-taek (Bong stalwart Song Kang-ho) and Choong Sook (Jang Hye-jin) – are in the gainful employ of the Parks, one recommending the other, as that’s how the Parks work: they only trust employees that come highly recommended by another trusted employee. Oh, my father has a friend who used to work as a chauffeur. Oh, I know of this housekeeper who’d be just perfect for you. And the rich, friendly (if patronising), gullible Parks eat it all up. They get the domestic help they want and the Kims get the gainful employment they need, so it’s a win-win situation, right?
To cut a long story short: no. Parasite isn’t a story about the joys of sucessful social mobility. It isn’t a hymn to faking it till you make it. No, Bong’s latest is a caustic comedy that turns into a war movie – the war in question being that between the classes. And as another war story set in Korea used to say: war is hell.