By Bradley Lane
Korean writer-director Bong Joon-Ho already had a remarkable, even legendary career, as he set out to make his newest feature, Parasite. His Korean-language films like Memories of Murder and The Host set box office records in his home country of South Korea, while his English-spoken films like Snowpiercer and Okja garnered near unanimous critical acclaim. Parasite debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in France earlier this year, where it won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, making Bong Joon-ho the first Korean filmmaker to win the honor. And for good reason, Parasite is a deeply complex, yet accessible movie that maintains a constant sense of entertainment, whether you are laughing, holding your breath in fear, crying, or left with your mouth agape.
The central characters in Parasite are poor, dirt poor. The family begs, borrows and steals to make ends meet. The story focuses on the son, Ki-woo, but is told through the lens of the entire family: the sad but funny father, Ki-taek, his wife, Chung-sook and their daughter, Ki-jung. The long con of the film begins when Ki-woo is put onto a tutoring job by his well-to-do friend as he must resign from the position while he travels to study abroad. Slowly Ki-woo begins to gain and exploit the trust of the wealthy family he tutors for, while the implications of his actions begin to have consequences, the scale of which they cannot begin to comprehend.
Simply put, every frame of Parasite is drenched in intentionality. Not a second is wasted from the very start until the very last frame. Bong’s narrative functions on many levels but at its core it revolves around information. The viewer always has just enough information to remain glued to the screen, but just enough is kept from the audience that you never quite know what to expect next.
The film also resists genre categorization, as it effortlessly moves from offbeat comedy, to a contemplative family drama, to an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride and back again.
However, the film’s most powerful element is the movie’s messaging. It is a critique of South Korean wealth inequality at its most surface level, but it’s about a whole lot more than just that. Its about the power dynamics of money in modern capitalist society, class solidarity and the hope that things can get better.
Parasite is a film that will stick to you for weeks after viewing, and its sheer entertainment value makes it an excellent first step into world cinema. It’s available to stream on Hulu. 5/5 stars