REVIEW: Parasite (2019)

Korean Theatrical Release Poster – CJ Entertainment

The following is a review of Parasite (‘기생충‘) — Directed by Bong Joon-ho.

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a South Korean drama about the class system. The film follows a very poor South Korean family who lives in an abandoned basement. The Kim-family spend their days searching for free WiFi, and they make a living folding pizza boxes. The parents — Ki-Taek (played by Song Kang-ho) and Chung-sook (played by Chang Hyae-jin) — hope that their children — Ki-woo (played by Choi Woo-shik) and Ki-jeong (played by Park So-dam) — can climb the social ladder and make a life for themselves that is prosperous. Ki-woo plans to go to college and make something of himself. However, as their father, Ki-Taek, later warns, plans are unreliable.

One day, Ki-woo’s friend Min-hyuk (played by Park Seo-joon) makes a suggestion that might finally lead to a steady paycheck for the Kim-family. Min-hyuk wants Ki-woo to replace him as an English tutor for the wealthy Park-family’s daughter, Da-hye (played by Jeong Ji-so). The family will only hire him if he is a college student, so Ki-woo will have to pretend to be one. Soon, Ki-woo sees an opportunity for his entire family to become a part of his profitable ruse.

Bong Joon-ho is an accomplished filmmaker with an open and creative approach to genre borders, which is to say that he often opts for humor in even his most serious films. He also has an incredible eye for staging, direction, and a gripping story. His incredibly impressive oeuvre is one you must experience to believe.

His filmography includes his gripping crime-thriller Memories of Murder about an unwieldy and irresponsible police force’s obsession with capturing a South Korean serial killer that should remind most western audiences of Zodiac, even though Bong’s film precedes Fincher’s masterpiece. Bong’s The Host is a funny but moving monster movie about a family’s search for their youngest, who has been taken by a monster partially created due to American irresponsibility and incompetence.

Snowpiercer is a Chris Evans-led post-apocalyptic action film about social classes that hopefully worked as a gateway for western audiences into his more unique films in his native tongue. With Netflix’s Okja, which I’ve previously reviewed on my site, Bong reached a global audience and successfully showcased his style and peculiarities with a film that was basically equal parts E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Schindler’s List.

All of the films in his oeuvre that I have experienced are absolutely unforgettable, and 2009’s Mother is no different. It tells the story of a mother trying to save her son, who appears to have been framed for the murder of a local young woman. It is gripping, moving, upsetting, and arguably his most polished and meticulously-designed film. That is, until his latest film was released. With Parasite, Bong now has his masterpiece.

The title of Bong’s latest film comes from the relationship that the Kims have with the Parks. To thrive, the Kims have to, in a way, feed off of the Parks. To move upward in the societal hierarchy, the Kims have to, as the film reveals, rid themselves of someone else. The world of Parasite is a dog-eat-dog society, and Bong and co-writer Han Jin-won’s dialogue is loaded with powerful figurative expressions. For example, Bong’s film makes it clear that the poverty-stricken are ghosts to the rich, which is to say that the rich do not notice them or recognize their challenges, and when the poor make their presence known — when they cross the line — they are decidedly displeasing.

Every inch of Bong’s film is masterful. The Parks’ home is eerily sleek but modern and faultless, and the secrets within are well-kept and carefully disclosed. The dialogue is poignant but also incredibly funny.  Bong captures both the feeling of a fun heist film and an incredibly tense thriller. There are even scenes that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Frightening, funny, and thrilling, Parasite is a true masterwork that, I think, could be immensely rewatchable.

Bong’s Parasite also includes several engaging performances from the entire ensemble. The entire Kim-family is outstanding, and Song Kang-ho is probably the standout as the kind but weary Mr. Kim. But I would also add that Cho Yeo-jeong is delightful as the simple but kind Mrs. Park. I really like how Bong handles all of his characters. No character is entirely good or entirely bad. Though you obviously root for the Kims, they are by no means saints. The same can be said for the Parks, who are initially very friendly and gullible, but who are also vexatiously elitist.

During the 2010s, I have started to become infatuated with South Korean cinema. Though some might say foreign films are an acquired taste, I would prefer to classify Bong’s latest film, Parasite, as an incredibly rich experience that I implore moviegoing audiences of all shapes and sizes to watch. Bong’s genre-bending Parasite is, like Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, a South Korean class-conscious masterpiece that I both admire and adore.

10 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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