Courtesy of NEON
An experience unlike “Memories of Murder,” “The Host,” or the vivid “Snowpiercer,” Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho’s wild and insane cinematic masterpiece “Parasite” is not only the best film I’ve seen in 2019, it’s one of the best films of the decade. The film knocks on the door of every genre: dark comedy, horror, drama, social commentary, and yes, even slasher with a dash of muder mystery thrown in for flavor. It says something about a films achievement when, days after seeing it, you’re left with this complete feeling. You can no longer see your cinematic world without a film like “Parasite” in it. It’s an experience. And it’s impossible to predict which direction Joon-ho is taking us. Only until the lights come up and the end title card flashes and you’re left sitting in the auditorium with your jaw on the floor do you realize what’s just happened.
Brilliant at every corner, “Parasite” is a film about two families on the opposite ends of the wealth spectrum, which Joon-ho has both directed and written. It’s a perfect film from nearly every frame, and has pristine visual representation thrown on screen (the true sign of a genius filmmaker). The director shows complete and total control of shifting tones to the performances to the obvious dissection on class division. “Parasite” is also consistently entertaining in about a dozen different ways. Thoughtful and charming, tense and hilarious all in one. And thanks to the masterclass behind the camera, it all manages to blend seamlessly.
The first scene of “Parasite” gives us insight into the apartment lives of the Kim family: Ki-taek (Hang-Ho Song) and his wife Chung-sook (Hye-Jin Jang), and their children, son Ki-woo (Woo-Sik Choi) and daughter Ki-Jung (So-dam Park). In the opening shot, we see a semi-window open to the street level, and eventually, a man urinating on a wall, something that becomes a common problem. So that gives you a rough idea of the Kim’s living quarters, to which Ki-Jung and Ki-woo spend the first minutes of the film trying to secure a free WiFi signal as the woman who lives upstairs has just locked hers with a passcode.
The family does the best they can on minimal wages, folding pizza boxes trying to make ends meet. When a nearby worker fumigates the streets for pesticides, Ki-taek insists the windows stay open, in hopes of getting a free extermination. Never mind all the bacteria and horrible chemicals being inhaled, as long as those pesky stink bugs are destroyed. But the poor lifestyle hardly detracts from their spirits, as they’re all comfortable with one another, however, sooner or later, pennies just won’t do. So when Ki-woo’s friend offers him a high paying gig tutoring the daughter of a rich family, the real con begins.
Enter the Park family (Sun-kyun Lee and Yeo-jeong Jo) who live in a flashy mansion with a live-in housekeeper (Jeong-eun Lee) and are as gullible as they come. Despite not having gone to college, Ki-woo manages to forge his way into the job tutoring Da-hye (Ji-so Jung) with a major boost from his sisters excellent Photoshop skills.
Sensing the family's dimwittedness, he says he knows an art teacher and therapist who could be a good fit for their son. The only catch is, he doesn’t inform them it’s his sister, who knows nothing on the subject. Next, even more intricate schemes get plotted on how to remove the family’s driver and housekeeper from the picture. It’s not long before the entire Kim family has practically taken over the Park residence, though, the little boy notices that all four of these strangers smell the same. But as the con grows larger and larger, Ki-taek understands how flimsy the situation is, yet, on the other hand, it sure beats starving.
This is where the whole literal metaphors start taking shape, and, no spoilers here, Bong certainly knows how to grasp what he’s trying to say. Especially as the whole “Upstairs, Downstairs” idea takes on a true form as the crazy secrets start being unraveled. To say anymore would be a grueling disservice to the films twists and turns, and though you’re already reading this review, the less you know heading in the better.
That said, “Parasite” will inevitably be remade in America, so I’d recommend seeing the films razor sharp edges and bask in the sadistic flavor Joon-ho marinates for us before some bonehead Hollywood executive snatches up the rights. It’ll be awfully hard to replicate a film that can shift tones and gears so effortlessly, that you barely notice it’s happening right in front of you. In other words, “Parasite” is a film of a rare breed, an audacious trip that only comes along once or twice in a decade.
There will never be anything like it again.
The film is spoken in Korean with English subtitles.