For some reason, I thought Bong Joon-ho’s new film was a horror movie. Maybe because the prolific director also took the helm for 2006s The Host, a horror movie that put him on the map internationally. Or maybe because the poster for Parasite, his latest film, is really creepy. It’s best to know as little as possible about Parasite before going in to seeing it. Perhaps thinking it’s your typical home-invasion horror movie beforehand sets you up for a wonderful surprise. Therefore, I don’t want to go into to much detail about the actual nature of the film. But for those who steer clear of anything even remotely associated with horror, I’ll say that it has more in common with dark comedy/thriller films than with those in the horror genre. In short, it’s intense.
The film begins by introducing us to the Kim family; father Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, daughter Ki-jeong, and son Ki-woo. They live in a semi-basement apartment in South Korea, and struggle to get by financially. That is, until Ki-woo’s friend turns up with a rock that’s meant to bring wealth to its owners, and more importantly, a proposition for a job. He suggests that Ki-woo take over for him as the English tutor to a girl from a wealthy family, while he travels abroad. Ki-woo worries that he won’t get the job, since he didn’t go to college, but his friend reassures him that the Park family is naive. Ki-woo has Ki-jeong use her digital artistry skills to fake college documentation, and passes himself off as a teaching guru to the Park family. Impressed by his unorthodox methods, they hire him, thus precipitating a series of deceptions that take fascinating turns.
Written by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, the story resembles a Rube Goldberg machine. Almost every twist and turn comes about as the result of a conceit or element that the film set up earlier during its run. If you know the concept of a Chekhov’s gun, this film is filled with them, rigged to go off at certain times in a carefully planned chain reaction. If a certain bit of information or object seems like it will come up later, you can bet that it absolutely will play a role later on. And if something doesn’t seem relevant to the bigger picture? It probably still will be. Parasite is a deliberately made film, where everything has a purpose. It also works as a razor-sharp social commentary on class and wealth iniquity. There are a couple of character decisions that don’t quite make sense, but it’s easy to forgive these as serving the greater good of the overarching plot and the messages it aims to get across.
While the writing easily serves as the backbone for Parasite, that’s not to say that it’s other elements aren’t top notch as well. Cinematographer Hong Gyeoung-Pyo works overtime, setting up several shots that tell stories all on their own. Bong Joon-ho directs the film with a deft hand, drawing the audiences attention to exactly what he wants you to see and away from what they shouldn’t, at least not until he feels the timing is right. The film also boasts terrific performances across the board. I’m reluctant to single anyone out, because Parasite really does work as an ensemble driven piece. But I can’t resist mentioning the duality of the performances of Choi Woo-shik as Ki-woo and Park So-dam as Ki-jeong. Both of them show two sides to their characters as the faux-teacher personas and the actual at-home identities.
I don’t want to say anything more about the themes or plot of Parasite, so I’ll just say don’t be surprised if the sensation you experience the most is that of nervous laughter. It’s an artfully made film, but also a wildly entertaining one.
‘Parasite’ proves the rare film that works on both the popular and artistic levels, thanks to Bong Joon-ho’s clever directing and the maze-like screenplay by Bong and Han Jin-won. It’s a film where watching everything fall into place, or deliberately out of place, is equal parts immensely satisfying and consistently nail-biting.
- Parasite Review