Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
Written by: Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam
The foundation of capitalism centers on the free market and a place where ideas can turn into profits. That premise gets muddled when it’s brought down to the individual level as displayed through the two families in this film. Bong Joon-ho masterfully crafts a film that explores the parasitic nature of humanity and how easily one can get trapped at the bottom.
Trying to make some money by folding pizza boxes, the Kim family struggles to garner the finer things in life and resort to stealing WiFi to utilize basic messaging services. Suddenly, an opportunity lands at the feet of the son Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) to substitute as the English tutor of a young woman, who’s part of the very rich Park family. As Ki-woo starts his lessons, he witnesses just how gullible this rich family seems to be and the Kim family slowly starts to infiltrate their lives for financial gain.
In the pantheon of cinema, there have been a handful of perfectly crafted films, which I admit comes with plenty of subjectivity. Parasite, for me, embodies cinematic perfection because of every single painstaking detail within the film feeding the overall message. Its director, Bong Joon-ho enjoys stories with social messages embedded in them with Okja commenting on the meat industry and Snowpiercer tackling the harshness of capitalism. Bong goes back to the well of capitalism again but refines it into a composed and slick story that applies at a universal level. Parasite displays a mastery of tone by the director, where he can have a blend of comedy, suspense, and horror intertwined in the same scene to dazzling results. There’s not a single misplaced frame that drags for even a second longer than it should. It embodies perfection for so many reasons and this review can only cover about 25% of it because this film deserves to be seen with fresh eyes. The first-time experience of this feature should be entered with the gullibility of the Park family for maximum enjoyment.
Before even going into the human elements of the film, the technical features need exploration because they tell as much of the story as the script. Parasite has astounding production design in the way it displays and warns the audience of what will occur. The magnificent house occupied by the Park family was built from scratch, which represents an incredible feat on its own but its construction has meaning. To enter the home one must ascend a grand flight of steps. The Kim family lives in a semi-basement that requires a descent down their stairs. Each house has ambiguous qualities for ambiguous reasons because there’s always a corner that might be hiding something or someone. From the production, a difference in the two families begins to take shape and inform the plot later on.
Some of the most intense scenes in the film must be attributed to the editing and the score. The way they’re intertwined to convey pacing and dread adds to the incredible acting taking place. The editing lands precisely when it needs to and cuts away from certain scenes that keeps the intrigue of the story flowing because the audience is kept in the dark just like the characters. It has that horror element of discovering things along with the characters, which creates an unsettling feeling where the editor doesn’t want to keep us calm. The score has an abundance of beautiful melodies and face-paced tracks that add intensity to every scene that feels like it may be contradicting what appears on the screen but it knows more than we do.
The message of the film could easily be boiled down to the perils of capitalism and what it may leave people resorting to for survival, but it contains much more nuance. One could easily land on the idea that it pertains to simple finances, but the world established in Parasite shows that the indifference the rich have for the poor reaches as deep as the person’s smell. There’s a moment of the film where a member of the Park family comments on the smell of someone from the Kim family. The smell’s description doesn’t comment on poor hygiene, but rather the difference in their ways of life as people. The Park family transports through vehicles, whether they are driving or being driven and they live in a house with plenty of separation from others. The Kim family must take public transportation to get around and live directly on top, below, and next to others. Someone’s smell defines a person and that disgust displayed in the film feeds into what the capitalist society has become.
Parasite also explores the crowded job market that has manifested in South Korea. At the beginning of the film, the Kim family cannot land any employment and not for a lack of trying. This airtight screenplay expands on the Korean job market and the unlikeliness of their possibilities for employment. They are skilled individuals, which becomes evident when interacting with the Park family but the job market doesn’t have anything for them. It makes the clash between the two families all the more interesting because this film could have lost its shine with the characterization of the characters. It would be too easy to make the rich people out to be completely obnoxious, but Bong fights off the resistance to do that because it’s more effective to humanize every character in the story. Each character feels real because they’re not caricatures, which makes all of the events that transpire in the film all the more funny and disturbing.
Speaking of these characters, the cast assembled for this perfect film also contributes to its incredible success. They are tasked to take on these challenging characters and do so with spectacular fervor. The highlight of them all being Song Kang-ho, who portrays the father of the Kim family. The character, Kim Ki-taek, carries so much joy in his heart and longs for the success of his children. He delivers some of the best comedic moments and does so with much gusto. A frequent collaborator with Bong, Song Kang-ho shows the ability to jump into any genre and work with the most prominent Korean filmmakers. Witnessing his work from Memories of Murder to Thirst and now this film show an incredible range and he may have just delivered his best performance yet.
Every actor brought something beautifully unique to their roles with Park So-dam portraying the sister of the Kim family as she gave life to the forever famous “Jessica, only child” tune before she rings the doorbell. Cho Yeo-jeong as the mother of the Park family portrays the ditziest character of them all and while the audience may laugh at how gullible she seems, she also possesses real human nature and love to her. Choi Woo-shik as the son of the Kim family provides the entry point into a world he and his kin have never entered. A deep-dive analysis could be created for each of the characters and their motivations throughout the film.
Again, this review only explores certain aspects of the film that could be discussed without revealing any of the shocking moments that transpire throughout the story. Much more can be written about the intricacies of each moment and how it relates to everything else in the story. Parasite embodies perfection at every single level and stands as an unquestionable masterpiece.