Parasite | Bong Joon Ho | NYFF 2019
Nothing divides humans more than social and economic class levels, a division that affects people from all different countries all the same. This effect is felt fully in Parasite, the latest from acclaimed South Korean director Bong Joon Ho, which won the prestigious Palme d’Or this year at the Cannes Film Festival.
Our introduction to the family led by Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), his wife Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang), son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), and sister Ki-jung (So-dam Park), we see them scrambling in their scrappy little apartment to try and find a connection to the wi-fi that they have been leeching off of from a neighboring business. When a passing exterminator threatens to blow their pesticide into their homes, Ki-taek sees it as a chance as some free extermination from the stink bugs that find their way into their home, rather than a health risk.
None of the family hold down a job, barely getting by with a gig folding boxes for a local pizza joint. Things change when Ki-Woo’s friend Min-hyuk (Seo-joon Park) tells him that he’s studying abroad and that he should take over his job teaching English to Da-hye (Ji-so Jung), the daughter of a very wealthy family. It’s easy to pull a quick one over Da-hye’s mother Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo), and soon Ki-Woo sees opportunities for the rest of his family to find jobs within this families fancy glass corridors. This includes a job teaching art to the hyper Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun), driving around Mr Park (Lee Sun-kyun) and tending the house.
One thing leads to another and soon the family has their desired positions, at the expense of the previous jobholders. You’re naturally inclined to root for the family, especially in the darkly comedic way that Bong frames it all. But you also feel bad for those who get screwed out of their job, mainly the family’s original longtime housekeeper (Lee Jung-eun).
To say more would ruin the best part about Parasite is that you think it’s one thing and then it becomes something else entirely. Even when you think you finally have it figured out it pivots into a different direction that you never saw coming. Twist and turns are aplenty and even if you have an inkling of what will come next, it still manages to pull the rug from right under you.
While Bong’s last two films Okja and Snowpiercer saw the director dabble with American cinema, Parasite is a return to Korean cinema and one that sees the director operating at a different level entirely. With commentary of the divides of class and the effect that it can have on those that are stuck at the bottom, in a way that reminds of 2018 Korean film Shoplifters. While the wealthy family that they serve lives on top of the hill, it’s fitting that they have to submerge well below them when they return home.
While these themes are right there in front of you, Bong never beats you over the head with them and still offers plenty to digest once the film comes to its thrilling conclusion. There’s not a bad performance to be found or a false note. Every scene is perfectly calculated and delivered, adding a new layer or dimension to the ever-growing puzzle, with cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong expertly using the interior and exterior of the house to make every single shot count. There’s a sense of anger and disillusionment felt throughout about the division in class and it’s one that should still hit home for American viewers considering the way wealth disparities have grown here over time.
Bong has returned with a film that takes you on a journey, where you’re left guessing the entire way through. Parasite plays by its own rules and has plenty to say about the division of the rich and poor while creating a highly entertaining film that isn’t easily categorized in terms of genre or description. It’s very much its own thing. If there’s one way that you can classify Parasite, it’s that it’s one of the best films that you’ll see all year.