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It’s Bong Joon Ho’s Dystopia. We Just Live in It.

“It’s so metaphorical!” Kim Ki-woo exclaims early in “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho’s new film. Ki-woo is the college-aged son of one of the two families — the impoverished Kims and the wealthy Parks — whose fates entwine with horrible and hilarious results. He uses the phrase a few times, most notably with reference to the large, decorative “landscape rock” that is a gift from a better-off friend. In the interpretation of “Parasite” that emphasizes the movie’s fairy-tale aspects, the stone brings good fortune to Ki-woo, his sister and their parents, even as, like so many magical objects, it also curses them. (Spoilers follow, for “Parasite” and other Bong movies.)

“太有隐喻意味了!”在奉俊昊(Bong Joon Ho)的新片《寄生虫》(Parasite)中,金基宇一开始就宣称。片中有两个家庭,贫穷的金家和富裕的朴家——基宇是金家上正处于大学年纪的儿子——两家人的命运交织在一起,产生可怕而又滑稽的结果。基宇多次使用这个说法,尤其是有一次一个富有的朋友送给他一块花哨的巨型“景观石”。《寄生虫》的诠释强调了影片的童话色彩,在这样的诠释下,石头给基宇和他的父母妹妹带来了好运,然而就像许多魔法物品一样,它也带来了诅咒。(以下有关于《寄生虫》和其他奉俊昊电影的剧透。)

Before long, Ki-woo stops talking about metaphors. Maybe because things start getting real. He takes a job tutoring the Parks’ teenage daughter, Da-hye, and pretty soon his whole family is employed, under dubious premises and fake identities, in the Park household. His sister, pretending to be a highly trained art therapist, starts working with Da-hye’s younger brother, Da-song. The Kim patriarch, Ki-taek, replaces the chauffeur who drives Mr. Park to and from his fancy tech job. Kim Chung-sook, the mother of the clan (a former Olympic-level hammer-thrower), takes over as housekeeper.


Or maybe — and it might amount to the same thing — the Kims’ reality has turned into an unsettling allegory of modern life, and Ki-woo doesn’t see metaphors in the way that a fish doesn’t notice water. What started out as a clever scam has turned into a fable.


In South Korea, where “Parasite” is already a blockbuster (having taken in more than $70 million at the box office), it has contributed to that country’s continuing debate about economic inequality. In the United States, where similar arguments are swirling, it has begun to turn Bong from an auteur with a passionate cult following into a top-tier international filmmaker. Fifty years old, with seven features to his name — most of them available on North American streaming platforms — he combines showmanship with social awareness in a way that re-energizes the faded but nonetheless durable democratic promise of movies.


The cramped, leaky “semi-basement” apartment the Kims call home is a metaphor of sorts, and so is the spacious, modern, architecturally significant mansion where they work. The Park home in particular comes with built-in symbols, including a deep subbasement where inconvenient secrets can be stashed away, like dead bodies or hidden meanings in an Edgar Allan Poe story. And “Parasite,” which won the top prize in Cannes in May and has recently become the rare subtitled release to be mentioned as an Oscar contender beyond the foreign film category, plays out like a parable of contemporary social relations. It’s part horror film, part satire and part tragedy, conveying a sharp lesson about class struggle in South Korea and just about everywhere else.

被金家当成“家”的“半地下室”公寓狭小、漏水,这是一种隐喻;他们工作的那栋宽敞、现代、极具建筑特征的大宅也是一种隐喻。朴家宅邸还带有一些内嵌的符号,包括一个很深的半地下室,可以用来隐藏令人为难的秘密,比如尸体,或者一篇埃德加·爱伦·坡(Edgar Allan Poe)小说的隐藏含义。今年5月,《寄生虫》在戛纳电影节(Cannes)上获得了最高奖项,最近又成为奥斯卡竞逐者中少有的不只是被当成外语片来看的字幕版影片。它的故事情节就像是一个当代社会关系的寓言。影片兼有恐怖片、讽刺片和悲剧色彩,表现了韩国乃至世界各地阶级斗争的深刻教训。

But the houses in the film — like every office, alley, field, railroad car and precinct house in Bong’s expanding cinematic universe — are also actual physical places. And their inhabitants are anything but symbols or ciphers. Bong likes to choreograph wildly improbable chases and fights, but he doesn’t cheat at physics. A reason for the frequent comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg is the ruthless precision of his technique. But for all his love of whimsy and absurdity, he doesn’t play games with human psychology. The actions and reactions in his movies are often surprising, but they are never nonsensical. His characters have gravity, density, grace and a decent share of stupidity.

但是电影中的房子——就像奉俊昊广大的电影宇宙中的每一间办公室、小巷、田野、火车车厢和警察局一样——也是真实的地方。房子里的居民绝不是符号或密文。奉俊昊喜欢设计一些看似不太可能的追逐和打斗动作,但他不会在物理上作弊。人们经常将他与阿尔弗雷德·希区柯克(Alfred Hitchcock)和史蒂文·斯皮尔伯格(Steven Spielberg)相提并论,其中一个原因是他的技巧极其精准。尽管他喜欢奇思妙想和荒诞不经,却从不玩弄人类的心理。在他的电影中,人物的动作和反应常常令人惊讶,但它们从来都不是荒谬的。他笔下的人物严肃、厚重、优雅,还有相当程度的愚蠢。

To call Bong a realist, though, would be crazy. The movie of his that first caught the attention of genre geeks on a global scale was his third feature, “The Host” (released here in 2007), about a giant, carnivorous mutant fish spreading terror along the Han River in Seoul. In 2014 came “Snowpiercer” (based on a French graphic novel), which confirmed Bong’s status as an international action auteur. A gaggle of movie stars from Hollywood and beyond (including Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Song Kang Ho, the solid South Korean Everyman who has appeared in four of Bong’s movies and who plays the Kim patriarch in “Parasite”) were packed into a high-speed train zooming around an apocalyptically frozen earth. The passengers were sorted into haves and have-nots, rebels and sellouts, and their struggles were both surprising and grimly familiar.

然而,将奉俊昊当成现实主义者就太荒唐了。他的第三部电影《汉江怪物》(The Host,2007年在美国上映)首次引起全球类型片极客的关注,它讲述了一条巨型食肉变种鱼在首尔汉江沿岸引起恐慌的故事。2014年上映的《雪国列车》(Snowpiercer,根据一部法国漫画小说改编)确立了奉俊昊为国际动作片导演的地位。一群来自好莱坞和其他地方的电影明星挤在一辆高速列车之中,环绕遭到灾难冻结的地球不停飞驰,其中包括克里斯·埃文斯(Chris Evans)、蒂尔达·斯文顿(Tilda Swinton)和宋康昊(Song Kang Ho),后者擅长饰演普普通通的韩国人,曾经出演奉俊昊的四部影片,在《寄生虫》中饰演金家的爸爸。乘客们分为富人和穷人,暴动者和背叛者,他们的挣扎既令人惊讶又熟悉得可怕。

That was followed by “Okja” (2017), an antic updating of the basic “Charlotte’s Web” material (a young farm girl fights to save the life of her beloved piglet) for an age of genetic engineering, mass media and multinational capitalism. Swinton returned, playing twin moguls, but the real stars were Ahn Seo Hyun, as the young girl, and the digitally rendered shoat whose soul was at stake in the hectic battles among scientists, executives, animal-rights activists and other motley human specimens.

紧随其后的是《玉子》(Okja, 2017),它是《夏洛的网》(Charlotte’s Web)的基本故事——农场小女孩为挽救心爱小猪的生命而奋斗——在基因工程、大众传媒和跨国资本主义时代的滑稽进阶版。斯文顿再次加盟,扮演一对孪生大亨,但真正的主角是饰演小女孩的安瑞贤(Ahn Seo Hyun),还有用数码技术制作的小猪,在科学家、企业高管、动物权利活动人士和其他形形色色的人类之间的激烈争斗中,它的灵魂吉凶难卜。

In obvious ways, “Parasite” is more realistic than those films. It returns Bong to the workaday Korean settings of his first two features, the grotesque comedy “Barking Dogs Never Bite” and the detective drama “Memories of Murder,” and also of “Mother,” his masterpiece (released here in 2010) about a woman whose mentally challenged adult son is accused of killing a schoolgirl. “Parasite” is more noir than science fiction, farcical until it turns melodramatic.

很明显,《寄生虫》比这些电影更现实主义。它回归了奉俊昊在最早的两部影片中平凡的韩国背景——怪诞喜剧《绑架门前狗》(Barking Dogs Never Bite)和侦探故事片《杀人回忆》(Memories of Murder);还有他的杰作《母亲》(Mother,2010年在美国发行),片中女主角有一个存在智力障碍的成年儿子,被指控杀害一名女学生。与其说是科幻,《寄生虫》更像黑色电影,滑稽可笑,直到最终变成一场情节剧。

But to sort Bong’s work by genre or style is to miss both its originality and consistency. His movies are bold and bright, infused with rich colors and emphatic performances. They are funny, suspenseful and punctuated by kinetic sequences that can make even jaded multiplex-potatoes sit up and gasp. There are at least a half-dozen such moments in “Parasite,” perhaps the most thrilling of which involves three people hiding under a living-room coffee table while another camps out in a tent in the backyard.


What makes “Parasite” the movie of the year — what might make Bong the filmmaker of the century — is the way it succeeds in being at once fantastical and true to life, intensely metaphorical and devastatingly concrete.


There doesn’t seem to be much distance, in other words, between the dire futures projected in “Snowpiercer” and “Okja” — nightmares of technology and greed run amok — and the class-specific domestic spaces of “Parasite,” “Mother” and “Memories of Murder.” A much-remarked-on feature of human existence at the moment is how dystopian it feels, as some of the most extreme and alarming fantasies of fiction reappear as newsfeed banalities. Fires and hurricanes feel less like symbols than signals, evidence of a disaster that’s already here rather than omens of impending catastrophe. Monsters walk among us. Corruption is normal. Trust, outside a narrow circle of friends or kin, is unthinkable. Whether we know it or not, it’s Bong’s world we’re living in. Literally.

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