‘Parasite’, Bong Joon Ho’s newest cinematic exercise in class warfare is best left seeing completely blind. Experiencing the film is to watch a master of the form meticulously construct an ever evolving narrative through character, setting, and, while taking place in Seoul, South Korea, the universal theme of income disparity. It won the Palme D’Or, the highest honor at the Cannes film festival for a reason, as it represents cinema’s ability to completely transfix, transport, and maybe even transform the audience.
Bong Joon Ho has been crafting meticulous exercises in genre for some time, but what’s distinctive about his work is its ability to transcend those trappings. Initially breaking through with 2006’s ‘The Host’, a monster movie with more on its mind, he catapulted into greater exposure with his English language and mixed-language films. 2013’s Chris Evans-starring ‘Snowpiercer’, itself an allegory of class distinction wrapped in a sci-fi parable, showed off Bong’s deft handling of action and set pieces beside weird performances. 2017’s Netflix original, ‘Okja’, a somewhat bizarre treatise on the meat industry, showcased his method of juggling tone as it wildly veered between sweet family film and violent mania. While these movies could fall under the loose distinction of science fiction, they are utterly distinct creations.
‘Parasite’ itself defies any normal convention. Ostensibly a thriller, it nonetheless starts in a place of utter farce and evolves, or more aptly devolves, into a base representation of desperate human behavior. It opens on the destitute, yet endearingly jovial Kim family unit, parents Ki-taek, played by Kang-ho Song (an actor known for his versatility in Korea) and Chung-sook, played by Hye-Jin Jang (hilariously deadpan), with their grown children Ki-woo and Ki-jung, played by Woo-sik Choi and So-dam Park respectively (both revelatory young performers). They scrounge to steal Wifi from their neighbors, ward off drunken wanderers who relieve themselves on their cellared habitat, and eke by through assembling pizza cartons for cash. These scenes could have played pitifully, but its apparent that this family, despite having questionable ethics, is a loving one, dedicated to each other if no one else in society.
In a circumstantial turn of events, Ki-Woo, dubbed Kevin as an English name, ends up in the employ of the Parks, a well-to-do family. Another family unit of four, the Parks seem to be the anti-Kims, led by parents Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee) and his batty wife Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo) with their teenage daughter and young son. This group is incapable in their own ways, requiring help in almost every aspect of their lives (housekeeping, driving, tutoring), which the Kims will come to exploit. How this all unfolds is at times funny, poignant, sadistic, tortured, unethical, vengeful, and ironic, sometimes all in the same scene. Bong’s mastery renders the proceedings extremely entertaining, while titillating and unnerving, making ‘Parasite’ really like nothing else before it, a true original modern fable . . .
Directed By: Bong Joon-ho
Written By: Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin Won
Running Time: 132 min.
* * * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- A