Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Starring Song Kang-ho, Park So-dam, Choi Woo-shik
Bong Joon-ho has been called a “trickster god” by critics, because his films start out being one thing and then transform into a myriad other things so seamlessly, you would be hard-pressed to detect where the narrative shifts from one into another and yet another even after multiple viewings. But where Bong’s most recent Hollywood efforts like Snowpiercer and Okja revel
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In his trademark fashion, Parasite begins like a self-conscious riff on last year’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, as we see the loving but broke Kim family huddled in their squalid basement apartment, their lone window a street-level opening that drunkards habitually pee against. Rumpled dad Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) jovially looks on as son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik, who can also be seen in another Korean release this week, the overbaked horror apocalypse movie The Divine Fury) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) run all over the cramped space looking for an unprotected Wi-Fi signal they can jockey on to. Meanwhile, wife Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) is busy folding boxes for a neighborhood pizza joint, the pittance she earns the family’s sole source of income.
An unexpected visit from a pal lands the eminently underqualified but lethally charming Ki-woo a job tutoring English to Da-hye (Jung Ziso), the daughter of rich businessman Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun). The Parks live in an architectural wonder of a house (painstakingly constructed by production designer Lee Ha-jun), a geometric vision in granite that miraculously integrates wide-open spaces with corners to hide in, and when Mr. Park’s vaguely clueless wife Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-jeong) mentions that her irrepressible son Da-song (Jung Hyun-jun) needs some art therapy, Ki-woo strikes at the opportunity to gain entry into the Parks’ luxurious idyll. He gets his grifter sister the job, who then gets the chauffeur fired to get their father installed. Finally, the matronly housekeeper Moon-gwang (Lee Jeong-eun), who seems to have a deep knowledge of the house’s history, is kicked out so that the Kim matriarch can sink her hands into the pantry’s bounteous supply.
The first hour of Parasite plays like a dark Upstairs, Downstairs comedy, a Downton Abbey with a keen satirical edge. In the film’s turning point, the Kims hold a tippling session in the Parks’ empty mansion and candidly assess their (mostly) benevolent meal tickets, indicting a caste system that turns the lowly into a leased servant class. “They’re rich, but they’re nice,” offers Ki-woo. “They’re nice because they’re rich,” retorts mother Chung-sook, implying that only people who get chauffeured can afford social niceties. (You can be forgiven for feeling a guilty twinge as a member of the Filipino middle class.)
And then a confluence of events happen to interrupt the family’s drinking binge, and somehow, as it navigates even more unpredictable turns, Parasite morphs into something more suspenseful and more violent—something with jagged, tearing teeth. A secret about the house is revealed that puts Bong’s ideas about class conflict into sharper focus (if not into obvious metaphorical terms), but the social commentary doesn’t cloud the director’s black comedy either: A stunningly choreographed set piece revolving around a living room coffee table will have you guffawing loudly and clutching your arm rest.
Parasite is one of those movie going pleasures that gives you no idea where it’s taking you…and Bong’s rage at the social inequities in his country takes you to some very uncomfortable places, indeed. But you have no choice: By the time you arrive at the film’s ultimate condemnation of poverty as a self-reinforcing prison, Parasite’s tendrils have sunk in too deep.