Bong Joon Ho is probably the most internationally renowned Korean director of today; having exploited his early successes in Korea like The Host (2006) with some American productions like Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017). However, it is in Joon Ho’s return to Korea that he has produced his most aspirational and impactful work yet.
Parasite (2019) is best enjoyed when knowing little of the plot. It will be enough to say that a poor Korean family is suffering, living in a broken basement-apartment that is bug-infested and low on wi-fi. The family’s son Kim Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) is able to find a job as an English tutor, through an old friend, to a rich family. After this a home-invasion plot seems to unfold.
Parasite was this year’s Palme D’Or winner at the Cannes film festival, and it was so deservedly. The film is hard to define simply because there are so many twists and turns in this tale that it is hard to pin down even its genre: Comedy? Drama? Horror? In the end, it’s a little bit of everything, as the film keeps changing and morphing before your very eyes. Safe to say it is impossible to predict this film at all.
In the hand of a lesser director, such sharp turns in content and tone would make such a film feel overstuffed and indecisive; however Joon Ho is able to juggle many different storytelling elements and execute a smooth conduction between each. The result is that moments that might appear jarring on paper seem inevitable on screen. There is so much to unpack in Parasite that it seems impossible to even try and do a summary of its themes in a review. The major analysis, however, is clearly that of class disparity that had already been prevalent in many of Joon Ho’s films, and which seems to culminate in this magnum opus. There are many nuggets and subtle inferences at the widening gap between the poor and wealthy that seems to grow before your very eyes as the film unfolds.
A lot has to be said of the cast too, who have to deal with character journeys that seem placed in five separate films. Indeed, Parasite would seem to be the greatest test for a performer, as it utilizes them for comedic, dramatic, and satiric purposes. In many ways, the character balances reminded me a lot of last year’s The Favorite (2018), which also had a seeming mesh of genres and themes.
By having such a rich composition on screen, the viewer is hardly left time to blink. As a result the film completely captures one’s attention and never let’s go. It is rare for a two hour film to keep a viewer on their toes, and yet Parasite’s unpredictability achieves this rare feat. By having so much content and crossing themes, each viewer reads the film completely differently; indeed each viewing might bring about different journeys.
In the end, Parasite is an exquisite film. The twists, turns and bold ambitions of the storyline completely pay off thanks to a stellar ensemble and a grand director, who is able to execute an extremely difficult script into one of the films of the year.