Bong Joon-ho has always churned out brilliant films of the fantastic and questioning of society. One can easily be amazed by his dystopian films of Snowpiercer and Okja. One can also miss its commentary on the class struggle. There’s no missing that message in Parasite with so little of the fantastic to crowd the themes. This film takes dead-aim and gets vicious enough to be both a dark comedy and a brutal commentary on a tough topic.
A Tale of Two Families
The story centers around the Kim family in South Korea. They’re poor, living in a crummy and dirty basement apartment. They struggle to find a wi-fi signal to grab and can only find work in the form of folding pizza boxes. With a family the includes a father, mother, and two adult children, all with some unique skill, one would think they’d find better jobs.
A bone is thrown their way when the son comes into the position of teaching English to the daughter of the wealthy Park family. He’s so easily able to work his way into their house that he devises a plan. When he notices the Park’s youngest child likes to draw a lot, he recommends he knows an art teacher. The Kim family daughter knows enough about art but knows a little more about deception through psychology. They devise a scheme of trying to get the whole family into the house, convincing the Parks they have no relation.
Darkly Comedic to Just Plain Dark
Parasite has an astounding ability to catch the audience off guard. We’re initially made to sympathize with the Kim family as the underdogs trying to make ends meet. Their methods become a bit darker as they go on, though still posed as amusing. In order to get the Kim father a job as a driver, they stage the limo driver to be having sex with girls in the family car. To kick out the present housekeeper, they form an elaborate plan to make the Parks believe the current employee has TB.
There’s a certain unease that comes from wanting to champion the underdog when their methods are so cruel. But there’s a piece of dialogue that defines their mission when remarking on the Park family; rich people can afford to be nice. It’s true. Being genuine did not get the family to where they wanted to be. Only through lies, scripts, and ruining the lives of others did they achieve wealth. And that’s the sad truth. Nobody earns a billion dollars. They find other ways, looser in morality. A shocking twist reveals itself in the second act and we view the Kim family in more complicated light. This especially true with the fantastic performance of Song Kang-ho as the poor father, starting off warm when his kids devise a plan and bitter as he watches his worth melt.
A Remarkable Picture
Bong’s style of portraying the Kim’s filthy residence to the decadence of the Park estate is brilliantly shot. Every scene within the Kim’s place is always shot at a downward angle, the camera always looking down on the family. The Park family resides in a modern manor atop a large hill, far above the squalor of the city. From these perspectives, it’s easy enough for the Kims to despise the rich for being so high while the Parks sneer and turn their nose at the lesser folk.
Even lesser scenes carry an uncomfortable distance and narrow view. When the Kim’s son initially begins teaching, he speaks of how vigor is more important than knowing the right answers. This is certainly the recipe for making your way into the capitalist world but a method that is sure to come back and bite you. Sure enough, the constant punching down of the less fortunate swings a pendulum of terror back and forth. You can probably guess who will lose the most in the end for the picture striving to be uncomfortably honest.
Parasite is the perfect rollercoaster of the darkly comedic and a scathing bit of class commentary. The performances exceptionally charming where it’s easy enough to be won over by the Kims and then blindsided by the tragedy that befalls them. The final few scenes of the picture are horrifically violent and deeply unsettling, offering no easy end to this troubling tale. With impeccable attention to detail and plenty of raw tension throughout, this is undeniably Bong’s best film and one of the best films of the year.
A visually stunning and well-acted piece of class commentary that is as entertaining as it is somberly insightful.
- Astounding script on eating the rich
- Visually compelling
- Pitch-perfect acting
- Not playing to a wider crowd