Written by Bong Joon-ho & Jin Won Han
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho is a filmmaker genuinely interested in issues of class and social structures. You can see that in his previous work, especially Snowpierce, Okja, and The Host, but there are elements of this in all his work. Parasite is the synthesis of all these ideas, a perfect summation of his thoughts on the class divide and human nature. This is a film made by a creator who is at the height of their confidence. Bong Joon-ho is clear-headed with a thorough understanding of the story they want to tell and the psychologies of the characters populating that narrative. It may sound grandiose to say this, but this is an example of about as close as we can get to having a perfect movie.
There are two families: The Kims and The Parks. It’s no coincidence that the recently deposed president of South Korea is Park Geun-hye and North Korea is, of course, ruled over by the authoritarian Kim Jong-Un. Bong is telling a story with layers to the narrative. He even comments on it through the voice of Kim Ki-taek, who always refrains, “Wow, so metaphorical!”. The Kims live a basement apartment, caught in the throes of poverty, frantically searching for open wi-fi signals with their phones, only finding them if they cram into the bathroom. Kim Ki-taek, the son of the family, is visited by a middle-class friend from high school, now a university student. This friend brings two essential things: a good-luck sculpture meant to bring wealth to the Kims & an opportunity for Ki-taek to work as an English tutor for a teenage girl in a wealthy district in Seoul.
Kim Ki-Jung, the family’s daughter forges some documents to make her brother appear like a real university student, and he secures the job with relative ease. The Park household is a luxurious one, the house was designed and formerly owned by a prestigious architect. The day to day care of the estate is overseen by a warm and loving housekeeper, Mrs. Moon-gwang, who gets along wonderfully with the Park’s two children, Da-hye and Da-song. Da-song, the boy in the Park family is a strange case, behaving with wild abandon and then sudden intensity. He remains an enigma throughout the entire film until we ultimately see beneath the mystique his parents have put around him. Ki-taek sees the Parks like a fruit tree ripe for the picking and goes about systematically getting his family installed as workers in the household. The Kims hide their familial status and behave as if they are strangers having come together through serendipity in the Park home.
Parasite doesn’t show its hand until an hour into the film and from there on it becomes a continually shifting surprise, reinventing itself in a single scene, adding layers of complexity to what seemed like a slightly dark comedy about class. Parasite becomes a deeply biting social satire, a brutal horror film in the vein of Jordan Peele’s Us, and finally a gut-wrenching human story about the pain of being under the heel of others.
This movie is a fantastic feat, accumulating so many elements and layers of narrative that you might expect it to add up to an underwhelming finale. There’s so much going on and so much to extrapolate from the text. We’ve all seen those movies with a beautiful premise and cast & crew of talented people that just fail to pull all the threads together. Parasite sticks the landing with finesse, a gorgeous, tragic gut punch that is never full of itself or gets carried away by ego. The drastic tonal shifts are perfectly balanced so that when the violence and grime get to their zenith, the screenwriters and actors cut the tension with the exact right bit of humor. Vice versa when things diverge into possible slapstick we’re shaken back to reality by a bit of cutting dialogue or revelation.
Bong Joon-ho has been a filmmaker I gravitated toward since I first saw Mother over a decade ago. Since then, it has been a delight to watch him excel in his craft and see each subsequent film revealing just how much of a genius he is. Parasite signals we could be entering a whole new period of movies for the South Korean director. If his next film matches the quality and craft of this picture, I think I may have a new all-time favorite.