PARASITE
(****)

"...an explosive saga of deceit, gossip, impersonation, and ultimately, conquest..."

The Years Best Film

(110119) 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 gory slashes.

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 all.

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 ranks.

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.
 

Directed by:   Bong Joon-Ho
Written by:   Screenplay by: Han Jin Won & Bong Joon-Ho
Starring:   Kang-ho Song, Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park
Released:   100419
Length:   132 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content

PARASITE ©  2019 CJ Entertainment
Review © 2019 Alternate Reality, Inc.