Film Review: Parasite
By Erik Nielsen
The final 30 minutes of Parasite are not only a summation of what has propelled Korean cinema to the film community’s conscious but also why Bong Joon-ho is a master auteur. He has ably defied all convention, crafting out a genre of his own. Joon-ho blends family drama, dark comedy, romantics, Hitchcock (who makes a cameo appearance) and gross-out violence with its share of scares, all coming together into one final product, with the specific goal of highlighting the economic disparity in South Korea. Parasite is the film of the year.
Returning to the fold, veteran Korean actor Sang Kong-ho (Memories of Murder, Snowpiercer) is a father who guides his family through their vices and money-making schemes. Much like Shoplifters showed us a family proud of their misfortunes, we witness this family in a similar situation. Quite literally living under society, in a semi-basement that barely peaks out into the streets, the family is strapped for cash and folds pizza boxes to make ends meet. They struggle to retain WiFi connection, borrowing signals from the neighboring cafe and when a truck drives by to fumigate for rodents, they proudly stand as the gas creeps in and enshrouds their home. “It’s so metaphorical”, a line repeated throughout the film by the son Kevin (Choi Woo-sik) is said shortly after.
But soon, an opportunity presents itself. As one of Kevin’s wealthy friends (it’s all about who you know) has recommended him to the wealthy Park family to tutor their daughter for exams. Once he gets the job the con begins, as the family of four hatches a plan to ensure each of them will have a job within the Park household.
The house where we spend a majority of our time is the perfect combination of ease and excess, a beautiful empty lawn, a tight spiral staircase, huge rooms for each member of the family, a choice of fine meats and a huge wine cellar. The details are languid and sumptuous. The type of choices only money can buy, which is what our protagonists don’t have. Once an opportunity presents itself they jump on it, like a Parasite. Which is what’s so lovely about the film, he can empathize with the poor but towards the end, the director wants you to question, who is feeding off of who?
The disparity between economic classes is not because the poor have a lack of talent or intellect. The family of cons creates and craft a script that they continually act out to perfect their performances once they meet the family, not unlike actors staging a play. This is where the film is at its most fun. The rich family can afford art class for a kid who clearly has no talent even though they grease his wheels comparing him to Basquiat. The “simple” mother (Jo Yeo-jeong) is humored by Kevin and his sister who claims to be an art psychologist. They take advantage of her dimwittedness while the neglectful father, Mr. Park (an excellent Sun-kyun Lee) hastens around and avoids the “smell” of his new guests. But soon, each member of the family is part of the Parks everyday routines.
Now, the twist in the second half of the film is what separates Bong as a filmmaker. It’s not only the virtuosic camerawork that is at full display, it’s how he toys with our expectations, setting us up for the first hour with a fun, frantic con-artist family tale, raging against the wealthy while also packing in plenty of laughs. He blends the tone between mild-mannered and over the top seamlessly because once the violence hits, it’s operatic, bloody and shocking.
And this is where Ho tricks us too, lurking us into a safe space where we begin to feel comfortable in the confines of this family but also (if you’ve seen his other movies) assume this will reach some strange conclusion or at least we’re anxious in our expectation of violence that always sprouts in his films, commenting on his audiences depravity. But of course, it’s nothing you’d be able to imagine, only what Ho could spice up to carve out his own corner of genre.