A chance job opportunity throws the near-destitute Ki-taek family into the lives and employment of the glamorous Parks. As the families entwine, the deceit and secrets catch up with the Ki-taeks, leading to an unexpected revelation about their now comfortable lives and a sudden act of extreme violence.
After oddly compelling Netflix hit Okja, South Korean director Joon-ho Bong returns with his compelling brand of oddball humour and cutting social commentary with the astounding Parasite. The premise is simple – what if the help from Downtown Abbey scammed their way into their jobs? You can already see the potential for upstairs-downstairs comic setups – but Bong avoids this low-hanging fruit (mostly) to keep the rich versus poor messages subtle and smart.
Class is undoubtedly under the microscope in Parasite. The Ki-taek family, despite their obvious intelligence and savvy, live in a basement-level apartment off an alley flooded with regular public urination. Their poverty is all around – on every side and above them, keeping them in place and dependent on stolen Wi-Fi and work folding pizza boxes. And yet the characters are compelling, ambitious, and whip smart. The Park family, meanwhile, live in an affluent, hill-side suburb away from the mess of the central city. The families are beautiful and clean, and the houses grand – but everyone is so self-absorbed that they lack real connections with one another, and they can’t see what’s going on in front of them. Bong shows this in a variety of ways, from the Ki-taek family’s unity, even in their failed pursuit of wealth, to the Park’s casual choice to fire any home help that inconveniences them. This rich versus poor narrative is perfectly balanced across the film, with our empathy for both sides flipping throughout.
Bong, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jon Won Han, captures this class dynamic perfectly through his direction. Shots of the Ki-taek’s grimy but lively inner-city existence are contrasted beautifully with the Park’s clean and soulless home. Similar metaphors separate the Ki-taek’s and Parks onscreen – the two families are often separated by kitchen counters, car seats, or other furniture, indicating their social differences as clearly as any dialogue. That’s said, the script is also intensely compelling. Dialogue is lean and crisp, driving the narrative forward quickly despite its long 121-minute runtime. Parasite also has a near-perfect conclusion – bleak but with a glimmer of hope, it does justice to the quality of a simple but fantastic story.
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Bong’s cast of South Korean film really helping Parasite come to life. The triumph here is the balance each actor finds in showing us the good and bad of their characters. Yeo-jeong Jo, as the lady of the Park household Yeon-kyo, emboldens this equilibrium. She’s a doting mother who cares deeply about her children and husband. However, she’s also insecure, naïve, and shrewish, embodying an aloof wealthiness that’s particularly distasteful. Another example is Woo-sik Choi as the Ki-taek’s son. The first of the family to become employed by the Parks, he initiates the scam and demonstrates questionable morals in betraying the trust of many. However, his relationship with the Park’s daughter Ki-jung, regardless of its seedy origins, means he’s the only one in his family invested in the Park’s wellbeing. We see this conflict between his private feelings and devotion to his family time and time again, leaving us evenly in the middle of this private war of the classes.
Funny, truthful, and razor sharp – Parasite is a triumph. Do yourself a favour – stop what you are doing and get tickets now. It’s a once-a-decade experience.
Parasite grips you from the first moment with perfectly balanced tension and hilarity throughout. Must watch! 9/10.