Capitalism is a drug. The elite–in their sleek homes, neutral-colored pantsuits, monochrome lives–are pod people, fully intoxicated by their luxurious provisions. Simple-minded, some might say. Because what is there to think about when everything is taken care of for you? What big life questions, what moral quandaries, what deafening worries exist when you have all the money in the world? That’s a question South Korean director Bong Joon-ho digs into in his latest feature, Parasite, an intoxicating dive into class division, family, ambition, and power.
The film follows two families, the impoverished Kims and the wealthy Parks. The Kims are made up of father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Choong-sook (Jang Hye-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam). They live in a dingy basement, barely able to afford food, making their living off of folding pizza boxes for a delivery service. But their fortune changes when Ki-woo is given an irresistible offer from an old friend: to take his job as a tutor for the Park family’s teenage daughter, Da-hye (Jung Ji-so). With the help of a fake resume made by Ki-jeong, Ki-woo secures the job and wins over the affection of the Parks, convincing them to hire his sister as their son’s art tutor–without letting them know she’s his sister. Soon, every member of the Kim family weasels their way into the Park household staff, finally getting a taste of steady employment and the finer things in life.
For the first hour or so, Parasite details the craftiness of the Kim family, mapping all of the dubious–and hilarious–ways they infiltrate the lives of the Parks. It’s a dark comedy, full of nonstop laughs and hijinks. But if you know Bong Joon-ho’s work, be it Snowpiercer or The Host or Okja, then you know he’s a filmmaker who’s disinterested in straightforward narratives. As the tension in Parasite builds, it seems inevitable that it will come to an explosive head. But how, and why? Joon-ho made a plea to our Fantastic Fest audience not to spoil the fun of Parasite‘s big twist, and so we wouldn’t dare. Suffice it to say, near the midpoint of the film, something happens that throws a giant knife in the Kims’ well-laid plans, and the plot dizzily spins off in a bold and unpredictable new direction.
The title of the film may sound like Parasite ventures into something sci-fi, but it’s more a metaphor for the parasitic nature of these dual families. The plot, at times, recalls Jordan Peele’s Us, given how the families operate–one below ground, envious of the upper-half–and how they feed off one another; the Kims with their resourceful world weariness, and the Parks with their naiveté, like deer caught in a constant, blinding headlight. They even mimic one another in gender, mirror visions that show that the only thing that makes us different is opportunity and chance.
That’s the haunting gut of Parasite; how we’re all separated by a thin line of luck. And that’s what makes all that comes to be all the more tragic and upsetting. Bong Joon-ho has crafted a story tailor-made for the times, where the rich and powerful neglect the needy, living in their ivory towers as the world burns and–quite literally in Parasite–drowns. But still we dream about joining the elite, even knowing how poisonous it is, how destructive.
Parasite won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, arguably the most prestigious film award there is. It’s not hard to see why. Though it’s difficult to talk about in much detail, it’s easy to say that Parasite is a movie of pure genius, one that rattles the bones, shocks you to your core, makes you laugh yourself silly, and ultimately leaves you breathless. It’s Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece, an eloquent and pitch-perfect fable about the joy and terror of getting what you want–no matter the cost. You’ll never forget your first time you see it; it’s parasitic that way.
5 out of 5.
Header Image Credit: Neon