With no plan, nothing goes wrong.
Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite is an extravagant tale of swashbuckling swindling and paralyzing division. Precisely stirred and boiled, the spectacle and captivation behind its story is that we, as spectators, never get a whiff of what’s cooking in the other room. What starts off as biting satire – probing at class politics with the gleeful antics of a poor family leeching themselves onto the fruit of a rich one – furtively evolves into a blend of monstrosities and hellfire, until finally hurtling us into an ocean of organic bloodshed. The journey is so frantically pleasant that any attempt to synthesize it without getting into the nitty-gritty of its sharp twists and turns feels dishonorable. But believe me, this is one of the best movies of the year.
Kim Ki-woo (Train to Busan’s Woo-sik Choi) and his family are living on the edge of poverty in Seoul. All unemployed, they claw around for cash, folding hundreds of pizza boxes at a time for a delivery service. Subtlety is similarly unemployed in this opening act: not long after we watch Kim Ki-woo and his sister, Ki-jung (So-dam Park), huddle inches away from a toilet in search of compatible wi-fi, their father, Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) orders the windows to remain open while the neighborhood’s being fumigated. The family’s semi-basement is starting to attract bugs, so hey, why not knock two birds out with one stone?
But toxic exterminations and cruddy internet searches won’t be a problem for the Kims much longer. When a college friend comes to Ki-woo with a proposition, asking him to take over tutoring English for a girl (Ji-so Jung) he’s in love with while he studies abroad, a lightbulb goes off over the poor boy’s head. The employer, a well-intended but simple-minded mother named Park Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo), follows a laxed “belt of trust” application system; her code of qualification is essentially nothing more than “any friend of yours is a friend of mine.” And so, it doesn’t take long for “Kevin” – his English name – to influence her that her son, Indian-fanatic Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung), needs an art therapist. And what do you know? Kevin has the perfect candidate: sister “Jessica.”
Soon enough, incognito mom and dad are brought into the home with open arms as well. And for a while, both the Kims and the Parks seem happy. But that’s about to change.
It’s easy enough to compliment and validate a film like Parasite on the merit of its thrilling screenplay – co-written by Ho and Jin Won Han – alone. It juggles enough tones to sterilize Titanic, setting its sails from a comedic pack of self-sustaining Robin Hoods to several uncharted, and far less funny destinations. But an abundance of other mechanisms within the movie further enhance its message – from something as simple as the title (which alludes to both the blood-curdling and blood-thieving scam), to something as methodic as the contrasting designs of the two families’ homes, the question turns from “can the poor live alongside the rich?” to “should the poor live alongside the rich?”
If that sounds like a strange stance for a film to take, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But, believe it or not, it isn’t that simple. Intricately woven into Ho’s narrative are the delicate and very real structures that make it impossible for the two degrees of classes to completely commune. As is the case in so many cultures and countries, the rich’s exploitation of the poor is beyond reprehensible. And in Parasite, they’re so prevalent that even the Kims, who find little moral responsibility in their actions, are eventually overpowered and enraged by the snowballing microaggressions and condescensions cast upon them.
But what’s perhaps most impressive about Parasite is that, if you wanted to, you could push aside the several avenues of analysis or the mammoth number of filmic archeological sites, and still have a great time. Bong Joon Ho’s latest is a masterwork in narrative, with chaotic commentary that, to our pleasure and its own power, never intrudes on the unfolding events themselves. Every typical category of film analysis – the performances, the cinematography, the score, the wit, so on and so forth – needn’t be labeled as anything less than great. And with that, there really isn’t much left for me to say.
One of the year’s best, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite is an absurdly masterful dissection of division and greed, and a thunderously assorted filmgoing experience.