With Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyung, Cho Yeo Jeong, Choi Woo Shik, Park So-dam.
What a brilliant movie. Beginning with a tightly composed interior shot of socks hanging to dry from a light fixture in a sub-basement apartment where a family of four are barely making ends meet, the viewer is drawn into a tightly composed story of class, misappropriation, with a surprising twist that deepens the social commentary.
The movie has elements of suspense, horror, humor, romance, inter-generational struggle, bilidungsroman, con artistry. A lower class family struggles while an upper class family is barely aware of any problem except a vague smell of something not quite right.
The story is of the Kim family down on their luck living in squalor — the toilet is in the open, and sits so high, you literally have to squat to sit there. Slowly but surely they finagle their way into a rich family’s employment, starting with the young son who thanks to his friend’s connection, becomes the rich daughter’s tutor. From there, the son, Ki-Woo, delivers his sister in the guise of an expert art teacher and therapist of the rich boy who could be an artistic genius or perhaps mentally ill. Once the daughter has earned her position, she finds an ingenious way to get the chauffeur fired, opening the way for her father — another “distant relation” — to replace him. Finally, the dutiful housekeeper is tricked into being let go because of a potentially contaminating illness. This opens the door to the last member of the Kim family– the mother — to occupy positions in the wealthy Park household.
The pacing and editing, and costuming of these scenes, one incident leading to another, sort of like This is the House That Jack Built– is flawless. We are drawn in by the way this family holds together to find each other work. Of course, it can’t last, and the falling apart is more jagged, and even shocking at parts, but still, the elements hold together in a perfectly constructed story. At one point there is a flood which reaches a level of danger and complete destruction, but somehow pulls back to let things reach a slightly different climax. But the visual feast, and images of staircases, with each person climbing down into what can only be thought of as an inferno leads to the inevitable. How metaphorical Ki-Woo might say. He had received a gift of archeological rock from his friend just before he vanished to the United States – and this rock will feature prominently not just as a metaphor– where do we come from ? what is the plan? how do we rise up from the earth and become something worthy? until it is just that solid thing that can do great harm.
Technology features quite naturally into the story, from the beginning when the family lose their wifi which they have been stealing from the upstairs apartment, to a key twist in the plot that depends on a person sending an incriminating piece of video.
Besides the exhausting and perhaps extraneous ending which seems to go on a bit long, the movie is ingenious, and practically perfect in every way.