Parasite review Song Kang-ho Jang Hye-jin Choi Woo-shik Park So-dam

Year: 2019
Director(s): Bong Joon-ho
Writer(s): Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won-han
Region of Origin: Korea
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Color, 132 mins

Synopsis: All unemployed, Ki-taek’s family takes peculiar interest in the wealthy Parks for their livelihood until they get entangled in an unexpected incident. (Source)

There’s an invisible line that connects and separates us all. This division is loosely defined by our needs, wants and social privilege. A few exist comfortably above this line, but most struggle below it. Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite thrives right in the middle of this conflict. He’s created a film about the tenuous but necessary relationship between the haves and the have nots, and it’s utterly breathtaking. This is an eccentric but accessible story that never goes where we expect, rocking us on the most primal level. The less I say the better, but without a doubt, Bong is at his most precise and heartbreaking here. His latest is a timeless story of how we all need each other, whether we like it or not. 

Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), his wife Choong-sook (Jang Hye-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) live in a crumbling basement apartment. They feed off of wayward wi-fi signals and can barely put food on the table, but share a close, unbreakable bond. When a family friend suggests that Ki-woo replace him as the English tutor for a wealthy family’s daughter, Ki-woo springs into action. At first hesitant, he jumps headfirst into this new opportunity. When the rich family reveals that they’d love an art tutor for their young son, Ki-woo cons his sister Ki-jung into the job. And like that, the Kims have found a way to infiltrate a world that they’ve never thought possible. Naturally, the consequences will be just as unexpected.

In a lot of ways, this is a fierce, genre-hopping story about survival, seen from above and below the poverty line. Bong frames the entire thing by focusing on two households, both metaphorically and literally. Though he remains tethered and empathetic to the Kims, he also doesn’t pull any punches or hand them easy outs. With their deeply affecting bond at the fore, Bong dissects a broken social cycle in which this family has no place in the world. They are true outsiders who suddenly taste privilege and are tested and changed by it. Once they set off an inevitable chain of events, Bong runs them through the wringer. Each scene creates tension as if Bong himself is sticking a knife straight into our stomachs and twisting it slowly. It’s painful and unsetting what transpires, but we can’t look away as the increasingly operatic madness escalates into unbearably tragedy. This is a film that’s increasingly textured and layered, with a savagery that gradually sneaks up on us and strikes when we’re defenseless. 

Parasite review Park So-dam

Since this is a very human story, Bong’s intimate focus demands performances that can embody shifting nuances – and that’s exactly what he has with this cast. At the head in many ways, Choi Woo-shik acts not just as the film’s catalyst but its most relatable character. He draws us into the film’s intrigue in a way that feels grounded despite a growing absurdity. As his sister, Ki-jung, Park So-dam feels is a powerhouse. Strong and confident, she’s completely captivating in each scene and impossible to ignore. Song Kang-ho is a perfect patriarch. As a frequent collaborator with Bong, Song’s abilities at this point feel interwoven into the ebb and flow of the director’s complex rhythms. He provides a steady beat for the film’s crescendo of madness. Jane Hye-jin’s Choong-sook completes the family of outcasts. She offers up tricky comedic beats while fleshing out the traits needed to complete the family. Finally, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-Jeong and Lee Jung-eun add a lot as the Kims’ prey. They bring unique sensibilities to an already dense experience. Ultimately, this is an ensemble piece through and through. Each character is so well defined, diving home a particular focus without making the film feel cluttered. 

Parasite comes from the mind of a director that is frankly unrivaled. Bong’s imagination and perverse sensibilities are second to none, and yet, this remains a human story with a beating heart. The film’s pitch black humor and its even darker moments of harrowing intensity never out shine the affinity Bong has for his characters or humanity. It’s saying a lot that this film can be so bleak but still have a sense of compassion. For a director who’s masterfully told stories about crime, society, class and most importantly family, this feels like a perfect encapsulation of the cyclical societal conditions that Bong has built a career upon. This is a landmark achievement that proves how vast the human experience is, and that we as people are more than our material worth or what society resigns us to be.