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Parasite at Hyde Park Picture House: Endearing, Hilarious, Brutal

Since Parasite hit the silver screen, the South-Korean comedy-thriller has been praised for originality and entertainment value. Incidentally, this comes as the iconic Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds prepares to shut down for 12 months of restoration. This felt like the perfect opportunity to experience a great work of cinema, but also pay homage to our local theatre before a bittersweet period of downtime.

Parasite (2019)

Hyde Park Picture House (1915)

After living in the area for a few years, it’s easy to forget how special Hyde Park Picture House is. The First World War-era establishment is the last remaining gaslit cinema in the UK, but visiting the grand little building seems to be on a perpetual to-do list for many young people. Despite sitting in the heart of Hyde Park, it sometimes seems overlooked by the student population in favour of the irresistibly cheap wine sold at Sainsbury’s across the road. As students guilty of this (admittedly minor) crime, it was time to repent. Fortunately, we were able to enjoy the Oscar-winning Parasite along the way. Here is our review:

Parasite comes from the already very established director Bong Joon-ho. The South Korean has been renowned amongst critics for years, but his commercial success lagged slightly behind. Now, several of his films are amongst the highest-grossing in South Korea, and the awards are streaming in. This genre-bending work of cinema earned the director his second screening at Cannes Film Festival in 2019, and recently dominated Hollywood at the Oscars. Bong picked up Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Foreign Language Film. These honours are well-deserved, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s all just spare a disbelieving shake of the head for articles like this one, which chalks Bong Joon-ho’s achievements up to “progressivism”, which is apparently worse than “Harvey Weinstein”. What does that even mean? It feels like an insult to the creators of this release, to claim that their work is only popular because of the rarity of a non-American cast in Hollywood.

Director Bong Joon-ho releasing his inner child at the Oscars

Parasite is a refreshing addition to the world of dark comedy. It crafts a surreal plot which is shrouded in mystery. The hidden motives and outlandish personalities of certain characters can at times make you wonder what on Earth is going on. However, this draws you in and is only a testament to the acting skill of this almost fully Korean cast. Parasite follows the working-class Kim family in their cunning plot to manipulate and worm their way into the lives of a rich and prosperous Seoul residence. Part of the intrigue comes from the pace of the story, which gives absolutely no sense of ultimate direction until very late in the film. As the tone becomes increasingly gloomy, the stakes are heightened, and what was originally a humourous (and sometimes silly) escapade evolves into something very intense. Even so, Bong still finds ways to weave ridiculous comedy into the film’s climax, often offsetting tense and graphic moments with slapstick humour.

This is not a new technique in filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination, but Parasite walks the tightrope between tension and humour very well indeed. One prime example of this comes during a wacky scene when one character is kicked down a flight of stairs, only to suffer a brutal injury. This shot gained one of the biggest laughs I’ve ever heard in a cinema, quickly followed by a collective gasp. Whether that reaction was down to Bong’s prowess as a director, or Hyde Park Picture House’s relaxed charm and atmosphere, I’m not sure.

This release is also packed full of visual metaphors, hidden meanings, and foreshadowing. Again, this isn’t ground-breaking in itself, but these techniques help to invoke some deeper thought. One interesting theme focuses on the power of mobile phones in our modern world. There is a scene where characters are held hostage, but not with a weapon. Their captor holds a mobile phone full of incriminating information, her finger hovering over the “send” button. She aggressively wields the device like a gun and threatens her enemies. This is a nice play on a classic movie trope, which also says a lot about how we as a society use the internet today. Other visual meanings are shown to comment on class divide, and basic humanity.

An early glimpse of the film's relationship with mobile technology

Our only criticism is the slightly weak ending. Whilst the film isn’t really based on a sense of realism, some of the final beats don’t add up perfectly. However, this is forgivable due to the ambiguity present through the story. To summarise, Parasite is an endearingly weird commentary on our world today, told through the mystery of a thriller.

On a final note: Hyde Park Picture House is closing for the next 12 months, but the show must go on. They will still be showing films throughout this period, but at a variety of independent venues around Leeds. Keep your eyes peeled for Hyde Park Picture House “On The Road”.

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