Tag Archives: Bong Joon-ho

The White Tiger

24 Jan

‘The White Tiger’: Tale of a caste away in India, taking a sudden, dark turn on drive to overcome

By Tom MeekFriday, January 22, 2021

Rahmin Bahrani cut a swath behind the lens with “99 Homes” (2014), a deft take on the subprime mortgage scam and 2008 housing collapse (a year before Adam McKay’s biting, brilliant “The Big Short” made us all feel stupid and complicit while laughing at ourselves), and later failed nobly with his dumbed-down TV version of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian “Fahrenheit 451” (2018) starring Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station,” “Creed”). He again plumbs the bittersweet underbelly of the class divide with “The White Tiger,” a tale of caste upward mobility, even if there really isn’t such a thing.

The beast of the title is a rare find emblematic of freedom and the fierceness required to attain and maintain it, and also a metaphor for the film’s protagonist, Balram (Adarsh Gourav), who lives in a poor Indian village where most everything (rent and commerce) lines the pocket of a nabob referred to as “The Stork.” Balram’s big plan is to ingratiate himself to The Stork, get a job as a driver and move his way up – easier said than done in a caste society in which Horatio Alger stories are more fiction than not. Balram lucks out: The Stork’s son, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), has newly returned from college in America accompanied by his wife, Pinky (Priyanka Chopra), born and raised in the Big Apple. The westernized pair are aware of the class structure but not abusive of its impunity as others are; Balram tags along in dutiful compliance. We and Balram initially seem happy to be in the coddled confines of a New Delhi luxury high-rise, yet there is something darker and deeper lurking at the corners of the drama about haves and have nots, like a stalking tiger biding its time in the underbrush.

Eventually events do tilt, and quite grimly. The material, based on Aravind Adiga’s award-winning 2008 book, tumbles from fairy tale to hapless despair in a quick “Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990) hop, and that’s when Balram, backed into a corner, refuses to play the hand he’s dealt. How the rub works its way out becomes a conflict of systemic manipulation from above and of those kicking at the structure’s inequitable supports. It’s something of “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) if infused by Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” (2019), haunting and brutal in its reveal by taking the ideal high life and status quo and turning it inside out with an uncompromising hand. 


18 Oct

‘Parasite’: What’s rising from the basement? Another squad eager to fight in the class war

Image result for parasite movie

Korean director Bong Joon-ho, who plumbed issues of economic disparity in “The Host” (2006) and “Snowpiercer” (2013), is back at it in “Parasite,” where we meet the haves and have-nots – the Parks and the Kims – and the shit starts flying.

We catch up with the Kims first, living in a shabby basement apartment where they fold pizza boxes for a buck and scam Wi-Fi from those above. They live hand to mouth until the enterprising daughter of the clan, Ki-jung (So-dam Park, sassy and excellent) lands a job as an art therapy tutor to the Parks’ young, eccentric (and demanding) son, who was traumatized in first grade by something emerging from the lowest level of the Parks’ sleekly palatial, very Scandinavian home. A host of opportunities emerge. Ki-taek’s older brother is ensconced tutoring the Park’s daughter. The mother supplants the Parks’ longtime housekeeper. And what if the patriarch of the Kims could get a job as the Parks’ driver? Neat idea, but they already have a chauffeur. The resolution is a pair of soiled panties left in the back of the Benz for Madame Park, quite OCD and repressed, to get her gloved mitts on.

The Parks, for all their wealth and stature, are 120 percent unaware that their new battery of employees know each other. It’s a happy coexistence for a good while; then the Parks go away for a long weekend and the Kims move in and make the place their own, emptying the liquor cabinets and pretty much turning the sparkling, spartan palace into a squatter’s paradise. It’s also when that something in the basement rears its head and the movie goes from a tense 5 to a frenetic 11.

Bong’s “Snowpiercer,” famously nearly ruined by disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, was about class stratification – those in the cramped dingy rear of the post eco-apocalyptic train eating soylent-ish green squares until they rise up and storm the gilded front, where champagne and sushi are fed to the 1 percent. Here, as with Jordan Peele in this year’s “Us,” Bong once again lets his message bubble up steadily yet subtly, ever pointed and tugging at the corner of the frame.

The culmination is as shocking, provocative and thoroughly entertaining (and resonant) as in “The Host,” which stormed the minds and hearts of critics and filmgoers the way the mutant beast did the urban landscape along the Han River. Beyond the impressive efforts of the ensemble cast, not enough can be said of the superbly composed framing by Kyung-pyo Hong (“Snowpiercer” and “Burning”), especially the wide shots of dingy urban alleyways, littered with refuse and Escher-like ascents. It’s a complete effort all around, and the kind of follow-up folks were hungry for after “The Host.” By returning to familiar themes and (untraditional) family values, Bong has again latched on to the collective mindset with a deft touch of the outré.