Let me start by saying, I am a huge proponent of spoiler-free film viewing and reviews. So much so, that when I heard the first mentions of the Bong Joon-ho newest film, Parasite by a trusted colleague of mine, that was enough to make me completely discontinue reading, watching, hearing any talk of the film This is why I am asking that if you have not seen the film, stop reading this review now and go see this movie. No reviews, no trailers, just see it and enjoy it for what it is.
Now, for those who heeded my advice and those who wanted to rebel here we go with the review.
Okay, last chance.
Parasite begins with a shot peering past a pair of socks hanging from the ceiling, out the window to an alley, revealing that we are in a basement level apartment. Inside the small, cluttered, a rather unkempt apartment are found the four members of the Kim family, bustling around the place in a panic. They are in the middle of a family crisis, their neighbor’s wifi they are hijacking is suddenly password protected. Without the ability to connect online, they will not be able to acquire a job needed to support the family. They move their phones across the ceilings and corners in search of a signal to reach the world above.
It is immediately understood that this is not a high-class family. The job opportunity for which they feared was nothing prestigious, but rather one folding pizza boxes. It is a job they carry out together and not with the best results. After some less than satisfactory work requires some haggling by Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) to try to get them paid in full. Their existence hangs on one small job to the next and probably a good deal of questionable behavior along the way. It is obvious that life is not easy for them. It is also clear that they will take advantage of any loophole to get ahead – be it stealing wi-fi or keeping their windows open as the city fumigates so the poison smoke engulf their apartment (as they sit in it) to help with their pest control problem. Everything is justifiable as they aim to improve their situation.
When an opportunity arises to work as a professional tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family, Ki-woo does what he needs to do to take advantage of it. The Parks live in a lavish home. Instead of a small, murky window for which to view the world, they have floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over their perfectly kept, private garden. In order to fit in, Ki-woo he will need to play the part of a higher class member of society because no self-respecting family would have a cellar-dweller teaching their child. So he dresses the part, wearing his very best clothes, styling his hair and prepping a “character” history to best emulate the professional helper they are anticipating. They even go as far as having his sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam) forge documents “proving” his status.
Soon he has enamored the mother of the Park family, Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-jeong), with his smooth-talking and carefully crafted words. He uses her naivety and insecurities against her to rather easily convince her he is the only person for the position. For someone who sits so high on the social ladder, the family is almost too easy to con.
The ease of which this is accomplished seems to set a light bulb in his head. Soon has his sister, father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), are all working for the Parks under increasing degrees of false pretenses. The only person who suspects a thing is a long-time maid (Lee Jeong-eun) who seems to be watching the new house guests with a suspicious eye. At no time do the Kim’s question their right to be there, actually quite the opposite. The swindling to them is just part of life – if they weren’t doing it someone else would be. Tricking to the Park family is a source of pride, it proves their worth – in their eyes, they belong there. It was their cunningness and ingenuity has closed the social gap. Perhaps they are equals, if not better than the Parks.
The film blends many tones into an unpredictable symphony of chaos. All of its parts moving like simultaneously like clockwork, perpetually advancing with a feeling of effortlessness as masterfully conducted by director Bong Joon-ho. The ability to ramp up the intensity of their situation while developing rich, endearing characters is where the magic lies. It leaves the viewers in a state of moral ambivalence. As the story unfolds it spirals around you, the ethical missteps are given a free pass, going undetected, in a sense. As a viewer, you almost need to take a step back to properly observe and dissect just how absurd the scenario has become. We are no longer just peering into the rabbit hole we are deep down into it.
The film’s core theme is about the relationship between the social classes, the poor that use the rich for money and the rich who use the poor. It is not judgmental in the way it approaches either – both groups earn the viewers’ empathy but neither comes out unscathed in our eyes. The metaphors are abundant, some subtle others quite obvious. Even as the themes are presented, it never feels preachy – they are worked into every scene in an engaging way as to not removed us from the story of these two opposite parallel families.
From the score to the cinematography and the masterful editing, all contribute to the fine balance of the film, keeping you immersed in the story from beginning to end no matter where it leads you. But, at the core of the film’s success are the spectacular performances of the ensemble. Each character is well developed and adds substantive depth to the satirical, sometimes bizarre thriller. If they came across as caricatures, the emotional weight of the entire film would crash down. Every member of the Kim family is portrayed with resolute confidence in a convincing and relatable fashion. But it is Jo Yeo-jeong as Yeon-kyo, the Park matriarch, who demands your attention – she is sweet, determined, fragile and emotionally vulnerable all at the same time. Her character drives home the malaise of the other end of the social spectrum.
Although I have spoiled some of the films here, I skimmed over much of what I have mentioned to this point and a great deal more certainly happens after. There is so much to take away from this film. It can be enjoyed on many levels. Rarely do you leave a theater with the feeling that you have seen something completely original – this is one of those occasions. See this film. Hopefully, if you have read this far, you already did.