Bong Joon-hoís Parasite, a film that has received near universal praise since
its Cannes debut, is a masterful synthesis of the directorís great skill as a
filmmaker. The South Korean storyteller, who has been active since 1994, is
known to dabble in difficult-to-confine genres, sampling his funky take on crime
epics (Memories of Murder), creature features (The Host), and sci-fi larks (Snowpiercer,
Okja) but always with a flair for the theatrical, a knack for the oddball, and
with a good store of surprises up his sleeve. His films always reveal a
storyteller with an iron-clad command over his intentions. His best works though
can be truly transcendent. And that is what weíre dealing with here.
Joon-ho is among an elite class of Korean filmmakers whose darkly-colored
cinematic touch and auteur-style inform their stature as creators. At its
finest, Korean film is a genre to itself, often defined by whiplash mood shifts,
jet-black humor, sudden bouts of extreme violence, and immaculate technical
skill. You donít need to hear the language spoken to tip you off to the presence
of Korean film. Their fundamental Korean aura emanates from the screen. Often in
Films like Oldboy, Mother, I Saw the Devil, The Handmaiden and The Wailing Ė but
a small cross-section of critically-acclaimed twisty and dark Korean imports Ė
reveal the inner monologue of a country foisted repeatedly into rapid change.
Their filmography celebrates traditionally mystic and ethereal threats while
grounding their existential dread in modern societal anxieties, often by the
most unexpected route. Which brings us full circle to Parasite.
From one act to the next, one scene to the next, one sentence to the next,
Parasite is a movie in a constant state of revolution. Joon-ho and Jin Won-hanís
violently tectonic script tethers minute one to minute one-twenty like the red
yarn of a madmanís bulletin board, making its movements impossible to predict,
though, deeply satisfying. This is a movie built on duality and conflict Ė a
suiting Korean import that teases the North and Southís violent history and
ongoing opposition. It is a story of two homes, of two families, of two worlds,
separated by the thinnest of threads, and the violent clash that awaits them
The Kim family is unemployed, all four of them living on the fringes of society:
holed up in a dumpy sub-basement apartment, pilfering Wi-Fi from neighbors,
fending off rogue urinators, and doing the odd pizza-box folding gig to make
enough scratch to keep the lights on. Patriarch Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) and
matriarch Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang) may have grown up in the aftermath of the
Korean War but their futures were blighted by years of societal unrest: coups,
assassinations, martial law. Revolution by violence. Their children Ki-jung
(So-dam Park) and Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) didnít fare much better, coming of age
in the great global recession that plagued Korea alongside the United States.
The Parks are their successful mirrors; younger and better looking, reveling in
their wealth and good fortune. Born under Koreaís rediscovered democratic rule,
they skim along the surface beauty of society like a stone on a glassy lake.
Gliding over the harsh reality that enshrines most, their existence is
safeguarded by impenetrable fences, key codes, and bomb shelters. But they
remain particularly gullible, hungry for gossip, and cold. Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong
Jo), Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee), Da-hye (Ji-so Jung) and Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung)
play the part of the perfect nuclear family but there is rot amongst their
One of the filmís great strengths is that Joon-ho inserts commentary without
overtly pointing out said commentary. His intelligence as a storyteller isnít
boastful so much as it is textured and keen. Thereís personal mementos alongside
broader cultural criticisms with Joon-ho accomplishing that rare feat of
creating something with actual meaning that almost managed to be massively
entertaining. Sure, Parasite blasts Koreaís notoriously rigid socioeconomic
mobility but it does so via a dangerous game of cat and mouse that is, quite
frankly, a joy to watch unfold.
Because the ladderís rungs have effectively been sawed through, social climbing
is possible only through subterfuge; socioeconomic strata conquered only by
conquerors; and there is bottomless pleasure to be had in witnessing the
conquering. The best-laid plans of mice and men going so awry has rarely been so
delicious and impactful.
If it seems like Iím dancing around plot points: itís because I am. Parasite is
both a movie that can be summed up in an economic elevator pitch: a poor family
imbeds themselves in the life of a rich family; but remains chock full of plot
around the fringes. To reveal the many pivots and contortions of the film would
be to deny viewers their acts of discovery. What I will say though is that, like
so often happens in life, it is the various unexpected twists and turns that
shock a train from its scheduled course that ends up directing where we shall go
next. Boon-ho is all about inventing tempests of varying magnitude to, often
quite literally (especially in the case of Snowpiercer), take things off the
rails but rarely has such revolution of plot and character arc felt this
revelatory and strangely beautiful.
Even surrounded by peers of great talent, Boon-ho separates himself from the
pack by taking a finicky mystery box approach to storytelling and then going
beyond even that. Heís a master of his craft, accounting for the most minute of
details while making it look like almost no work at all. His films exert a cool
casualness despite their often complicated webs of plots and chameleon-esque
tone, none moreso than Parasite. The experience feels like the bleeding edge of
cinema precisely because of how it feels like an exposed nerve tapping into the
global climate of raw unease, jealousy, and perhaps even righteous anger.
Boon-ho has distilled the zeitgeist into an explosive saga of deceit, gossip,
impersonation, and ultimately, conquest, leaving us to wonder what exactly it
is we need to fumigate before itís too late.
Like a rival organism depleting its host, ĎParasiteí may lay waste to the mind
but it nests in the soul, lingering with the viewer long after its conclusion.
Bong Joon-hoís masterful and indefinable parable is a creation of layer upon
layer of storytelling skill matched to standout technical prowess across the
board. An easy contender for best film of the year.