Parasite (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 132 Minutes
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam
Bong Joon-ho, one of the most notable South Korean filmmakers of his time has been known in the past to create a lot of films which pick at all sorts of social commentary through a variety of different genres and settings to likes of Global Warming in Snowpiercer, Animal Cruelty in Okja, or now in his latest film, Parasite, more of a giant commentary less on a worldwide scale, but more along the lines of the socio-economic divide between the wealthy upper-class and the poorer lower-class backgrounds. Told in an intelligently written thriller that manages to wonderfully balance strong comedy, alongside a huge ton of fear and suspense whilst still keeping the characters compelling helps Parasite to be not only be one of the crowning achievements of film throughout the 2010s, but perhaps a new true modern classic for World Cinema as a whole.
The Kims are a family that live on low wages in the slums of South Korea. When Ki-woo, the son of the family manages to find work in an upper-class house as an English teacher by faking his university qualifications based on advice given to him by his friend, he manages to figure out a way to exploit the family’s gullible nature by helping his family take on other roles for the family such as a chauffeur, maid and art therapist by inadvertently getting the other worker fired through means of framing. As the family relishes in the high amounts of money they are getting paid by this family and exploiting the luxuries they provide, they all come across a dark secret in their house that completely changes their perspective on life, along with how that family views the world through rose-coloured glasses.
Parasite, as mentioned earlier is primarily a film that acts as a giant social commentary on the socio-economic backgrounds of the upper and lower classes of modern day society. Though never told in such a way that feels particularly blatant or patronising, Joon-ho uses these themes as a way to tell a unique story set in mostly only two locations as sort of a lock-down thriller that may not seem intimidating at first, but slowly unravels to become something far more sinister and frankly scary given the world we now live in. The film starts off quite smoothly as we are introduced to the Kim family, who are living in the slums and barely getting by, due to their low wages on small jobs and the fact that their apartment is very prone to flooding. But what makes them endearing to the audience very early on is how much of a huge familial unit this family truly is. In that apartment, there are very few scenes when they aren’t sharing the screen together, and when the film progresses and we are introduced to the Park family, the upper-class family that live in a giant mansion which the Kims use to pose as workers for their own financial gain, the film starts to leave little details as to how the Lower and Upper Class truly differentiate from each other. The Park family, unlike the Kims, spend most of their time in the house completely separate from each other, relish in their luxuries, have workers from lower-class backgrounds of whom they don’t seem to give that much love or attention to, and also have a much more gullible side to them. Since the Parks clearly don’t see much out of the Lower-Class based on their status, it makes it easy for the Kims to slowly enter their lives and each take on different roles unrelated to each other to reap the rewards that they are blindly giving to them so that they can live better lives.
It’s through these contrasting familial dynamics that Bong Joon-ho also cleverly makes sure that there are no clear heroes or villains to be found in the story. While it could be very easy for a film like Parasite to display the upper-class Park family as antagonists for a story like this, it would have made the film feel preachy so they are never really represented as bad guys. They are mostly average family that value a lot of what they have in their lives, even if it means they are somewhat dismissive to those below them, because they just don’t share the same experiences as them. This also links to the Kims since, while we are introduced to them in such a way where we feel we should root for them, they also have a bit of a dodgy side because of their mischievous nature of literally infiltrating the Park Household, and naughtily exploiting as much of their riches as they can get a hold of. And when this all links to a MAJOR TWIST that happens around midway, which won’t be talked about due to spoilers, it only helps to make Joon-ho’s commentary on this subject matter all the more tragic in many ways. The film turns from a light comedy about a poor family exploiting the rich to a legitimately tense thriller very quickly and still manages to make the transition period of it all feel just right to keep the story feeling engaging despite the limited locations, by keeping the dynamics of the characters strong and having them literally reach a boiling point that ensues with one of the most utterly bonkers final acts ever seen in a film of this caliber. It’s because of all this why a film like Parasite is best experienced knowing as little about it as humanly possible. A lot of it relies on the genuine surprises that ensues so the less you know about it, the more you will take from the experience.
As for the technical and filmmaking sides to the film, Parasite is also a huge darling to behold. The production design here deserves some amazing commending since so much of the established locations in the film have to serve as giant visual metaphors for what the families living conditions are all like. The Park family’s giant mansion was created from scratch as a set for the film and it’s wide look and modern aesthetic helps to show how much wealthier the family is, but also how supposedly far apart the family is from each other. The cinematography is also very well done with many little visual motifs being cleverly integrated as major foreshadowing moments later on, along with many shot simply giving plenty of visual information to work with based on the performances and the locations, and the editing keeps to a very tight and rhythmic pace, altering speeds intentionally to change the moods of each scene in almost fluid fashion along with feeding the audience with little crumbs of information that later some into play as other plot points that advance the story. Parasite is a film that through these filmmaking methods, has a lot to work with based on the small amount of locations and how sometimes limiting yourself can truly enhance creativity. It’s as ambitiously restrained as it is so unanimously well crafted.
Parasite is one of the finest examples today of how not only Bong Joon-ho is easily one of the best living filmmakers in the business, but how he is able to take a truly relevant subject matter and use his creative restraints in locations to create a whole new kind of suspenseful thriller that can’t really be replicated. Everything about Parasite is so meticulously detailed, thorough in its foreshadowing, and so audacious in its execution that there really isn't anything like it. It is gathering all of the attention it deserves online by not only being a very entertaining film that keeps the tensions high but the pace perfectly methodical, but also shows how there are never any true protagonists and antagonists in the truly tragic world we live in, where the Upper-Class live the lives of luxury while the Lower-Class have to suffer with no major ways of getting out of it. It’s one of the few films that I think could actually be deemed as perfect because Bong Joon-ho is so utterly impeccable in the ways he feeds his stories with so much thought and context that it’s hard to fault it with how much passion and vigor is already behind it. It’s the best example of a modern-day masterpiece and it deserves every bit of love it has been getting since winning Palme d’Or at Canne in 2019. See it as soon as you possibly can. If you can get around the language barrier and read the subtitles, you will find yourself exposed to one of the best film of the 21st Century.
FINAL RATING: 10/10 (PERFECT)
The thrilling suspense
Fluid and layered characterisation between the characters.
Thought provoking commentary on socio-economic classes
Witty comedy, mixed with many layers of true tragedy
The smart editing that alters pace and mood so elegantly
The phenomenal production design
Consistent entertainment value