December 14, 2019 – This much-ballyhooed Korean film from offbeat director Bong Joon Ho plays like a brilliant con job comedy in the first half, before switching to total wacko mode at the end, with knives out and bloody. I liked the first half of this Jekyll and Hyde film a lot. The second half, not so much.
The set up is brilliant, with a family of con artists getting their hooks into a wealthy family, taking over all the household jobs, chauffer, housekeeper and tutors, all under assumed identities. The wealthy family has no idea that they have just hired a whole family of con artists. Unlike most con artists, however, this family is performing the work they are hired to do. They are not stealing anything from the wealthy family except their trust.
The first member of the poor family to get a job with the wealthy family is the eldest son, aspiring student Kim Ki-woo (played by Woo-sik Choi). A friend recommends him as a replacement tutor for pretty young student Park Da-hye (Ji-so Jung) the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun). As soon as he gets the job, he recommends his sister, Kim Ki-jung (So-dam Park) for the job of tutoring Park Da-hye's younger brother, Park Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung).
The most talented member of the con artist family is Kim Ki-jung. She forges the documents to let family members pass themselves off as skilled workers with different identities. She also plants evidence against the Park family's chauffeur so her father, Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) can get the job of chauffeur. She also helps to sabotage and frame the Park family's longtime housekeeper, Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) so her mother, Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) can take over as housekeeper.
When the Park family leaves for a camping trip, Kim Ki-taek and his family take over the whole house and have a party, congratulating themselves on their new, high-paying jobs. With their increased income, they will be able to move out of their basement apartment into better living quarters. Things are looking up.
Well, you know this can't last. When a massive rainstorm comes, canceling the camping trip, and the old housekeeper, Gook Moon-gwang, shows up, revealing an absolutely crazy secret about the location of her husband, Geun-sae (Park Myung-hoon) things fall apart very rapidly. It turns out there is a secret about the Park family's house, which, for some reason, only two people knew about, Gook Moon-gwang and her husband.
The resulting confrontation between Kim Ki-taek and his family, versus the housekeeper and her husband turns violent. Almost immediately, the Park family returns from the rained out camping trip and the interlopers have to scurry for cover. This crazy story gets even crazier, and even more violent, that night and the next day.
I actually liked the ending of this story, which is both sentimental and whimsical. It is supposed to be a surprise, but is actually obvious. I liked the ending much more than the violent events immediately preceding it. My main problem with this story is that this string of events is so wildly improbable that the story is just barely believable.
If Bong Joon Ho's goal in this film is to tell a fable about karma, honesty, consequences and class tension between the rich and the poor, I would have found that more effective if it was contained in a more believable, relatable story. This story, in my opinion, relies too heavily on a lot of very unlikely coincidences.
My favorite movie by Bong Joon Ho remains “Mother” (2009) which I think is his masterpiece. Compared to that film, this film along with “Snowpiercer,” “Okja” and “The Host” don't really measure up. Many critics disagree with me on this, preferring those fanciful, far-fetched, less believable films from this director. This film rates a B.
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