Parasite was directed by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer) from a script by himself and Han Jin Won, and stars Woo-sik Choi, So-dam Park, Hye-jin Jang, and Kim Ki-taek as a not very well off family of four living in the slums of South Korea in an apartment below street level. The family is continuously looking for work due to their financial shortcomings, but can’t seem to find it due to the environment in which they live simply not being very conducive to holding onto employment, try as they might to escape their circumstances. But one day, when the family’s son, Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), is informed by his friend Min (Seo-joon Park) that a rich family living in a great house designed by a famous architect is looking for a new English tutor for their high school-age daughter (Ji-so Jung), the family manages to catch a break, and after some document forgery by his sister Ki-jung (So-dam Park) to verify he has a degree legitimate enough to teach English, Ki-woo is interviewed and hired by the mother (Yeo-jeong Jo), later citing his sister as a possible art teacher for the family’s young son, Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung), setting in motion a plan to eventually get their entire family hired by the rich and naïve Parks, infiltrating the home by being just smart enough to fake their way out of the income inequality in which they find themselves. But the lives of the rich are tricky ones to navigate, and if even two of them are seen at the same time, the Parks could suspect their deceptions; with all this in mind, the Kim family must craft an intricate dance by which to move around their employers’ suspicions, and one small slip-up could be the end of them all. The film also stars Sun-kyun Lee, Jeong-eun Lee, and Myeong-hoon Park.
When it was first announced that South Korea’s entry for the 2020 Academy Awards would be the latest from director Bong Joon-ho, and that it could end up going all the way to Picture (with some outlets even projecting a win), I immediately became interested. Anyone that knows me knows how much I love the Oscars, and how much I (generally) trust the Academy’s decision-making process when it comes to the nominations which are due to be revealed each January. Along with that love of the Oscars, I’ve been attempting lately to get more into foreign films which I might otherwise not be able to see in the U.S. (due to lack of distribution or availability) as a way of expanding my movie-watching horizons, so when I discovered that my local theater would be getting Parasite as one of their bookings this weekend, I was enormously excited. It’s not often you actually get to sit in a theater to watch a foreign language film that could reportedly go that far at the Oscars, even with the staggeringly good reviews it was getting, but it is far less often that U.S. theater-goers are able to watch International features at major cinema chains at all, so I was gonna take the opportunity to see this no matter what.
It's always a matter of subjectivity whether a film is a masterpiece or not, so I don’t use that word lightly, but if any film released in 2019 deserves that title bestowed upon it, it’s Parasite. I’m not exactly sure how much I can really go into it without getting into spoiler territory (and to be honest, I’m afraid I’ve said a bit too much in the opening paragraph already), but I cannot overemphasize enough just how good Bong Joon-ho’s latest feature actually is. It moves with the confidence of direction only the greatest filmmakers can ever communicate this clearly, so sure in its vision that even the one tiny editing choice that felt a bit rushed can’t manage to trip up its raw energy, utilizing staggering cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong, and boasting performances by its entire cast so precise, you’d think Kubrick himself had gifted them their abilities from his own body. Each and every single actor in this movie is at the top of their game, especially Kang-ho Song and So-dam Park, both of which steal the show at multiple points in scenes where any one of the performers could have walked off with Oscar gold. Each of their mannerisms, movements, lines of dialogue feel so lived-in and so real that I could almost swear the entire cast had been doing this movie as a performance piece together for decades. Even minor characters end up mattering in serving their purpose to the story, and even Sun-kyun Lee gets to chew the scenery in a few moments, making for some delightful play between him and Kang-ho Song, whose performance is as close to perfect as any actor has gotten all year long.
And, as mentioned above, the cinematography is remarkable. I’m not exactly sure where the production managed to find Kyung-pyo Hong, but I sincerely hope he gets to do a lot more work in the states, because imagery this good needs to be seen more often. So much of it combines the best qualities of other DPs like Emmanuel Lubezki and Roger Deakins, yet it feels entirely Hong’s own, as if somehow a mashup of those two was born in South Korea and given a camera the minute he was out of the womb. His framing of every single shot is a masterpiece all in itself, every single image a painting of the most wonderful, terrifying, symbolic, and beautiful type. It’s something that truly has to be seen to be believed, and I still don’t now if I can fully believe what I witnessed his camera capture and do.
One review mentioned in the trailer for the film states that “you expect it to be one thing, and then it turns into something else,” and that is exactly what watching this film is like. Bong Joon-ho keeps such a tight lid on the proceedings and goings-on of what’s actually happening for most of the beginning of the film that we never even suspect it could morph into something completely different, and yet, it somehow manages to do so in a way that makes sense and not only supports but deepens the story it’s trying to tell. I was shocked to find halfway through the film that I had no idea where this was supposed to be going. The director’s control throughout the picture is remarkable, his script so tight there’s hardly any room for cracks to form, and if one ever did, it was so thin that I couldn’t have possibly noticed. And that directorial control and discipline is further exemplified by the relevance of every single thing in this movie, whether that be a character, plot point, story beat, prop, line, or performance choice; everything matters. Everything in this movie has a purpose, but if I went on too long about it, this review would be 12 pages long and we’d be getting into somewhat dangerous spoiler territory, so I’ll say no more than that concerning how all of that relevance eventually comes to fruition.
Parasite’s secret weapon, though, isn’t a plot twist or a character reveal, but instead its incredibly controlled commentary on class warfare and income inequality, a commentary which is loaded into every single image, moment, character, and movement. I won’t say that it’s all that subtle where the commentary is concerned, but Bong Joon-ho’s story is so enrapturing, so all-consuming of the frames that tell it that being any more subtle than this movie’s message is actually might be a disservice to the entire proceeding, and throughout the film, it feels like Bong Joon-ho knew this, and so chose to put it all right on the page, confronting the audience in their own seats, making them unable to escape the horrors of life unfolding before them on screen, even as those horrors reflect real issues people in our world live with every day. There have been a number of movies this year about class discrepancy and income inequality that did well enough for what they were, but never really seemed to understand what the fundamental problems were that created that inequality or kept it alive; Parasite not only understands this, but expands on it, presenting it in such a way that it’s all one can do not to immediately tell their friends to go see this movie so that they, too, can understand what you’re feeling.
Parasite is a masterpiece, a tension-dripped dark horror comedy that’s difficult to even put into any one or two of those genres, brimming with and soaking in commentary, loaded with everything it needs to make that commentary stick. Everything in this movie has a purpose; everything in this movie matters, and the fact that the cinematography, performances, writing, direction, editing, and every other aspect of this movie are all so sharp, so pinpoint precise that you couldn’t fit a single hair through any perceived cracks is just icing on the cake you can’t stop eating. This is the second foreign language film this year to become one of my absolute favorites of the year, one of the best international films of all time, and if the Academy decided to award it Best Picture tomorrow, I wouldn’t even deign to question its legitimacy. It’s that good.
I’m giving “Parasite” a 10/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.