Directed By Bong Joon Ho
Starring – Kang-ho Song, Yeo-Jeong Jo, So-dam Park
The Plot – Jobless, penniless, and, above all, hopeless, the unmotivated patriarch, Ki-taek (Song), and his equally unambitious family; his supportive wife, Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang); his cynical twentysomething daughter, Ki-jung (Park), and his college-age son, Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), occupy themselves by working for peanuts in their squalid basement-level apartment. Then, by sheer luck, a lucrative business proposition will pave the way for an insidiously subtle scheme, as Ki-woo summons up the courage to pose as an English tutor for the teenage daughter of the affluent Park family. Now, the stage seems set for an unceasing winner-take-all class war. How does one get rid of a parasite?
Rated R for adult language, some violence and sexual content
– Social class commentary. It should come as no surprise that a movie this enveloped in economical dividing structure supplants some pretty meaty themes and observations in regards to the contrast between the respective lifestyles. This comes in the form of scenes that document the selfishness of the upper class, for how they use and humiliate those that they deem lower than them for their own amusement. Such a scene involves a child’s birthday party, and without asking and forcefully assuming, they demand they fill the roles needed for their own entertainment. Beyond this, there’s a scene in the film involving a flood to the setting, that signifies the vulnerability of the lower class compared to the ignorance of the upper. As to where the former loses everything they have, and feel like their worlds have come crumbling down, it’s nothing but an afterthought to the latter, who have moved on planning their next day. It also helps to fruitfully observe that the upper class in this instance live in the mountains, high above everyone else, while the lower class family reside in a basement apartment, outlining the class wars as vividly as anything I’ve seen in film.
– Tonal shifts. When I saw the trailer for this film, it felt like a horror movie, for the shrieking sounds and slick editing that adorned it, but the movie is an entirely different spectrum when you actually endure it. The first act for me is as strong of a comedy as anything that I’ve seen this year, balancing the lunacy in schemes that this family constructs as well as the way they adapt to unforeseen circumstances that they didn’t expect. In the second act, it goes into a bit of a psychological thriller, when some plot twists start to materialize, and further illustrate the endless boundaries of envy. The third and final act shift this into a full-fledged horror film, complete with blood, brutality, and a birthday party scene that will make you glad nothing like this ever happened at your birthday parties. It’s important to note that each of these shifts age and materialize naturally due to the response of the ever-changing environment. It indulges the audience on its unpredictable directions, and asks us to spontaneously adapt in the same way its characters do, and it’s too much fun not to take the bait each time.
– Genius storytelling. It’s important to pay attention in this film, as the brief, glossed-over pieces that we initially interpret as nothing more than throwaway exposition are in fact key components in a bigger picture that eventually materializes. Once you know more about the characters and their capabilities, you start to understand how they are able to pull off the kinds of feats that they are mastering, leaving no big gaps of logic or believability in keeping this film grounded in its approach. Beyond this, it values its characters as equals without labeling one as the dominant protagonist that movies become saddled with. Here, each character plays a pivotal role in the progression of the narrative, fleshing them out in ways that gives them their own directions separately, eventually meeting up on a crash course where everything comes to a head. No scene in the over two hour run time feels wasted, and the finished painting at the end cements Joon Ho as one of the masterful storytellers of the modern age in any cinematic language.
– Alluring dialogue. The most difficult obstacle that I face in a foreign film is frequently losing the pulse of the story in the subtitles that I have to endure, for this being a film of foreign rendering, and while training your eyes to stay sharp for two hours did require multiple pauses in between, my intrigue never sprang, thanks to some absorbing dialogue that went a long way in testing the waters. The evolution of the tone is certainly one benefit, but the film competently balances the outside and internal stratospheres of its characters, capturing a complete picture that better helps understand their sometimes questionable logic. For my money, the interaction between the two fathers captures so much about each ones loves, fears, and priorities that better help articulate the dynamic between the two sides, and keep the wide margin of distance between them to better illustrate the inevitable confrontation. It gives the subtitles a sense of a great novel, where you can’t wait to turn more pages in order to understand more about the depth inside of this world, and stands as the one case where subtitles didn’t omit the air of anticipation that the movie was preserving so especially.
– Eye-opening performances. It’s safe to say that I don’t know a single one of these actors and actresses from anything I typically review, but that ambiguous sense positively left me unprepared for what I was getting myself into, and gave me some fresh faces that I will constantly be keeping an eye on for the permanent future. Kang-Ho Song carries enough despair and depression even through the uplifting times of his family’s newfound fortunes to cast strong empathy for the character, even if he is captaining these very seedy intentions. Song takes over the film in the closing moments with one of the more emotionally residing climaxes that I’ve seen in quite some time, and masters the tragedy of distance with a traumatic longing that stirs at our conscience due to his unshakeable presence on the film. Likewise, the work of So-Dam Park was entrancing for the overall lack of guilt and selfishness she maintained while indulging in a life that was never hers to begin with. Her character is definitely the black sheep of this family, but that doesn’t limit the character’s potential in the slightest. Instead, it gives her plenty of scenery to chew on, all the while relishing in some attitude and diva dynamic for the character that make her the most original piece of this talented ensemble.
– Profound title. I don’t often get to bask in the importance of a film’s title, but “Parasite” is so fitting to so many different circumstances that reside within the film, that I couldn’t just pass up the opportunity to define its purpose. The obvious context is this family of four who leach on to the wealth and lavish lifestyle of a family they just met, scattering like roaches when the trouble eventually catches up to them. Beyond that, however, the title also alludes to the way the upper class view their opposition. This comes in the form of multiple lines of dialogue between them about a nasty smell that they all carry, or their lack of material blessings that they are judged on constantly. It’s rare that one word can define so much about a film’s many chapters, but perfection sometimes comes in the simplicity of a single solitary noun, and in this case takes something small in scale, and fleshes it out in a way with immense stature because of its path of progression.
– Bong Joon Ho. Who else but the very same man who has given us some of the more poignant social commentary pieces of the 21st century? I’ve already commended him for the film’s narrative, which is practically perfect, but it’s his influence on the presentation that might just exceed it. Using a 2.35 aspect ratio to widen his stance on the scope of the film, Joon Ho does so to capture the imagery of the large family in a single frame. This not only speaks volumes to the collectiveness of them as a cohesive unit, but also keeps the attention on the immensity of the situation they have taken on, hanging over their heads like an ominous cloud. Aside from this, Bong’s direction amplifies tension in a series of long take trailing shots that persist with the actor in frame, like karma catching up to them. He’s a director who matches intensity with a variety of shot compositions that challenge the scene from many angles, and give us one of his more visually entrancing productions of his young career.
– Universal themes. When seeking worldwide appeal for a film on a grand stage, it’s important in establishing a conscience within the themes that appeal to a human spectrum, instead of a designated country one, and even though this is very much a Korean placed story, its themes stretch far beyond that. It addresses them, but not in an obvious way that weighs heavily on the integrity of the poignancy. Issues revolving around class, about how we treat others every single day, and how that treatment will eventually find its way back to us, and about dreams and what they can be. This is all wrapped up in a very interesting character piece that reveals more about the two sides the longer it persists. While society doesn’t value them as equals, the screen time granted certainly does, and we the audience benefit from the messages that Joon Ho spins so precociously.
– Detailed set pieces. Considering 95% of this movie takes place between the two families’ houses, it’s important that the film illustrate the contrast not only in quality of life, but also in surrounding environment. When we are first introduced to this lower class family, the very first frame peaks us out of four windows that are at eye level with the sidewalk outside. This gives their home a claustrophobic sense in space and piling objects, with limited freedoms for personal time of reflection. On the other side of town, we get an immensely-sized house with so much room that you could play a football game inside of it. Once you comprehend the comparison, only then can you get a sense of the desperation that motivates the actions of every character, rich and poor. The former is so tight and constrained with the family being seen in the same frame together, all the while the latter is expansive and luxurious, giving us a sense of the increasing wedge between them to be together.
– Rigid beginning. What slight critique I had for the film resided in the first act, which takes a little longer than I would’ve liked in getting the ball of storytelling rolling. As I mentioned before, there’s not a single scene that I would’ve removed from this film all together, but the pacing of the introductory period slugs along in a way that served as the only time this film actually felt every bit of its ambitious run time. If you are going to see it, know that your lengthy wait and investment time will eventually pay-off, but in a movie with arguably the best second act that I’ve ever seen in a film, as well as a third act that ties up the emotional climax seamlessly, the first act is evidently the film’s biggest weakness.
My Grade: 9/10 or A