In an era where discussions of class structures and all of the inherent systemic evils are constantly at the forefront of both our conversations and the art that responds, master storytelling Bong Joon-ho may have just given us a definitive text. Parasite, his newest blend of classic genres pushed into a daring new future, is far-reaching and immersive in its ideas, a contained piece of essential cinema. It expresses how we live today and how we feel, all while unfolding with unexpected consequences and reveals that serve its look at wealth inequity.
But aside from its ability to condemn the forces upholding our social strata and how it delights us in doing so, Parasite reveals the wounded soul at the heart of the suffering, and the things that keep us apart from even those closest to us. Parasite is an uproarious and furious heartbreaker, one to let consume you with the might of its full force.
The film follows a mirror of sorts between two nuclear families in South Korea, the unemployed and near-destitute Kim family crammed in a cruddy basement city apartment and the affluent Park family. The Kims struggle for any kind of work, sustaining themselves on stolen wifi and a hustle for quick cash. A visiting friend suggests to the son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) that he assume an identity to play tutor to the Parks’. Once inside, the film quickly turns into an uncompromising and thrilling comedy of errors throttling toward catastrophe as the Kim’s stable themselves by deceiving the Parks.
Bong Joon-ho delivers an exquisite display of tonal control and marrow-deep social intelligence with the film, making something that is still provocative within a mainstream package. As one family inoffensively infiltrates another, the film reveals as much about one family’s dynamic as the other’s, but even moreso about how the two interact within the social structures that have been demanded of them. One submits, and one maneuvers around in order to advance – and not always as we anticipate. Much of the film’s majesty comes from when those roles break down, or when they cannibalize eachother. The machinations of capitalism are the villain here, with the film remaining curious of how the failings of its characters might be their own or of society’s making. Bong digs deeper than we expect, but seemingly barely breaks a sweat in doing so.
Heightened like a grim operetta, part of the wildness of the film is how sharply it throws us between farce and thriller throughout (before closing on something achingly poetic) without losing its narrative composure. It’s the mark of a true cinematic master when we can feel a film taking us into the unexpected through its narrative incisiveness. But Bong remains one step ahead of the audience at every point without ever condescending to us. Instead, Parasite’s morphing tone unfolds itself as an invitation into its wit and its sorrow, but especially into its rage.
Parasite is neither a pretentious thesis nor a hat trick of surprising storytelling, but intrinsically tied to the humanity at its core. This makes for an experience as satisfying while watching it (and please dear God, do so with a crowd if you can) as it is when unpacking it in the weeks after it still keeps its hooks in you. An instant classic, without reservation.
The film also exists in complete synergy of craft beyond Bong’s exhaustively observed writing and directing, with the design elements from Jaeil Jung’s score to Kyung-pyo Hong’s lensing making for the most imposing film of the year. Ha-jun Lee’s production design makes for a devilish playground for the Kims and Parks, turning the Park home into one that reveals and enhances character along with the text.
But Parasite also assembles a most invested and complementary ensemble. Yeo-jeong Cho’s Park mother Yeon-kyo is hilariously exacting, taking the film to its comedic heights without ever asking for the laugh or overplaying the sinister. The Kim women, with So-dam Park playing daughter Ki-jung and Hye-jin Jang as her mother Chung-sook, are each grave wits and the film’s casual verve. But the emotional center of the film is Korean screen legend Song Kang-ho as Kim father Ki-taek, a cuddly figure most transformed by what goes down.
With all of its many firebrand elements and its singular auteuristic vision, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a rigorously entertaining social thriller you can’t let go of. Surprising in its observations and developments, the film is has all the makings of one destined for rewatch and deeper examination in perpetuity – a film with the power to continue to reveal things about how we interact and how we survive.
Parasite was screened at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.