A film review by Craig J. Koban January 15, 2020

RANK: #2


2019, R, 132 mins.


Song Kang-Ho as Kim Ki-taek  /  Lee Sun-Kyun as Park Dong-ik  /  Cho Yeo-jeong as Yeon-kyo ( Mr. Park's wife )  /  Choi Woo-shik as Ki-woo ( Ki-taek's son )  /  Park So-dam as Ki-jung ( Ki-taek's daughter )  /  Lee Jung-eun as Moon-gwang  /  Chang Hyae-jin as Chung-sook ( Ki-taek's wife )

Directed by Bong Joon-ho  /  Written by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won

Part psychological horror film, part home invasion thriller, part black comedy, and part social/economic satire, Bong Joon ho's PARASITE covers an awful lot of tonal and thematic terrain, but it's a testament to the South Korean filmmaker that he manages to hold it together with such confident and masterful fluidity.  

It's a film that begins simply enough in terms of its premise, but later builds layer upon layer of complexity, reaching an astoundingly and delightfully unpredictable crescendo where its many twists and turns are rarely, if ever, overtly telegraphed.  Boon has built a reputation for making memorable films about class struggle between the halves and have nots (look at his very recent sci-fi effort SNOWPIERCER), but in PARASITE he takes that subject matter to whole new macabre levels.  Very few films from 2019 have brilliantly and audaciously defied expectations as much as this one. 

Set in modern day South Korea, PARASITE introduces us to one of the most unforgettable movie families in many a moon in the Kims, a very tightly knit, but devastatingly poor family that live in a dilapidated basement apartment that constantly looks like it's riddled with trash and infestations of an unimaginable kind.  The father of the group, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), tries to support everyone on low paying menial jobs, one of which involves the mass folding of pizza boxes for a local eatery.  Without much of a financial way out in the near future, prospects look grim for the Kims, that is until the son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), has an enterprising plan for helping net his family some quick cash.  Referenced by his friend, Ki-woo becomes an English tutor for the daughter of the upper class and posh Park family, and within the first day of helping Da-hye (Jung Ji-so) he becomes positively enamored with the lavish levels of nearly unobtainable luxury that this family lives in.   

Believing that the well off couple - Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo) and Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee) - are inordinately gullible and highly vulnerable to be taken advantage of, Ki-woo and his family decide to enact a malicious, if not ingenious, plan.  First, he enlists the aid of his sister, Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), to take over as an art therapist (despite having no formal training whatsoever) to help the Park's hyperactive and over stimulated son.  Soon after that, the third part of Ki-woo's plan unfolds, which involves getting his dad to take over chauffeuring duties for Dong-ik, but only after they conspire to get his previous driver fired under false pretences.  Then comes the fourth part of the plan, getting the longtime Park family housekeeper fired with a false disease scare so that Ki-woo's own mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) swoops in and - you guessed it! - becomes the new Park housekeeper.  Astoundingly, the Parks are never even remotely suspicious that all of their new help are a dastardly group of family con artists, leaving the Kims living large and enjoying the fruits of their criminal ways.  Alas, just when things couldn't be going more swimmingly for the Kims, a dark secret is uncovered in the Park family home that threatens to reveal their real identities and the stability of their long con game. 



The first half of PARASITE is genuinely spellbinding as we witness the slow and methodical takeover of the Park household by the conveying Kim clan, and Boon revels in showcasing the nonchalant level of dishonesty that this family is capable of, whether it take the form of forging documents, planting evidence, taking false identities, and forging massive and devastating lies to infuse themselves in this affluent home.  PARASITE works marvelously in the manner that all of these crooked details are unraveled, the most deceitful of which involves the manner that the Kims manage to plant a seed of large doubt in the germaphobic Yeon-kyo that her current housekeeper suffers from a deeply contagious disease that she has been hiding, leaving her a high contamination risk for her children (the manner that a peach is utilized here as a strategic weapon, of sorts, by the Kims is a masterstroke).  PARASITE displays great unbridled joy in showcasing the gross susceptibility of this affluent family and how another family of absolutely meager means can so easily have their way with them. 

It's at this vantage point in the film where Boon is really making his film's thematic ambitions pretty clear: PARASITE is a movie about basic human and family survival of the fittest.  The Kims live an existence of crippling poverty whose daily existence revolves around pillaging for food (and their neighbor's Wi-Fi signals), working soul crushing jobs, and living in unsanitary slums.  Their lives are a constant struggle to simply stay afloat.  The Parks, on the other hand, are the exact polar opposite: They have literally everything a family would dream of: money, cars, a tech adorned modern home, and every other conceivable expensive convenience one could imagine.  If there's an overwhelming similarity between the Parks and the Kims is that they're both unified family groups, in one form or another.  But beyond that, their are on polar opposite extremes of the economic ladder, and one where monetary and society inequities foster this divide.  It's no wonder why the Kims target the Parks.  They're attacking their very gluttony by wanting a piece of it all the same. 

That's what makes PARASITE so equally chilling, clever, and darkly amusing.  Initially, it's a hoot to see the Kims amorally infuse themselves into the Park's way of life, without any disregard to their feelings and sense of privacy.  There's humor to be had it witnessing the obnoxiously susceptible Parks gets so easily duped by the Kims' orchestrated masquerade.  At the same time, though, I don't think that Boon is taking great pains in making the Kims sympathetic heroes that are just sticking it to a rich family that had it coming to them.  Their actions are pretty reprehensible to their core, which leaves any semblance of definable "heroes" and "villains" in the piece to be intriguingly absent.  PARASITE may be a damning portrait of the social and economic disparity between the rich and poor, but on many levels both the Parks and Kims suffer from insatiable greed.  They're both parasites that feed off of others.  I admire Boon's complete restraint in not aggressively choosing sides here in this portrait of class warfare, and I don't think he holds either of these families in high moral regard. 

As the film careens towards a wickedly crazy - and blood soaked - second half Boon starts to shift gears away from social commentary and satire and fully commits to and embraces the home invasion thriller angle, which becomes typified by some ghoulish actions born out of pure desperation that further builds towards instances of horrific graphic violence.  It would be shameful to go into much more detail as to what happens during these narrative sections, other than to say that Bong never once coddles viewers by holding their hands.  Instead, the filmmaker cranks up the levels of intense unease to almost unbearable levels involving deadly consequences for all.  For a film that begins as a grifter comedy of manners to then morph into satire and then later segues into something psychologically horrifying is quite staggering, but Boon somehow pulls it all off with a unwavering gusto.  It also becomes, as a result, easy to overlook what a technical and visual marvel PARASITE is throughout, especially for how editorially efficient the piece is on top of how Boon manages to make both the Kims and Parks' dwellings to be secondary characters in their own respects.   PARASITE may be a foreign language film to most that will watch it, but visually Boon gets his story's message across with juxtaposed production design and art direction. 

The act of keeping audiences legitimately guessing throughout the film's well earned and never overly long 132 minutes is arguably its greatest strength.  PARASITE aims its satiric crosshairs at its various targets on both sides of the economic spectrum with immense relish, and as an intoxicating piece of cinematic provocation, Boon's film is equally exhilarating and absurdly entertaining.  There's something the film is pointedly trying to say about the nature of domestic satisfaction and the absurdly cruel lengths that some families will go to in this pursuit of happiness, and the manner that Boon never once hints to the audiences the nightmarishly dreary detours his story will take only helps reinforce how much he's in complete control over his craft and those in the cinema chairs.  

Alfred Hitchcock once said that a filmmaker should "Always make the audience suffer as much as possible" and that "There is no terror in the bang, but only in the anticipation of it."  That perfectly encapsulates PARASITE.

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