Parasite Review

For decades now, South Korea has generated some of the strongest, most original cinema in the world. With a pantheon of directors that seamlessly draw from a myriad of genres, their films manage to be deeply provocative, with grand themes and subtle character moments interspersed with broad shifts in tone. Bong Joon-ho has been celebrated for his strange and dark tales like Okja, Snowpiercer and The Host, each of them equipped with high-concept sci-fi elements that create an unsettling vision of the world. With his latest, Parasite, he shifts gears once again, creating a family drama wrapped in a grifter’s guise that’s blisteringly good.

The film begins with Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) in his squalid, damp apartment, flailing his phone in a search for a new free WiFi signal as the neighbor they were stealing from has set a password preventing access. His father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), formidable mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) and smart, attractive sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam) clamber all get in the action, spending energy on getting something illicitly rather than through legitimate means.

Thus sets out a twisted morality tale, where the family slowly ingratiates themselves through clever means into the wealthy Park family’s life. As each takes up a role, their success is based on deceit, with lies-upon-lies built to buttress their position. For a good portion of the film, it’s a wry and thoroughly enjoyable journey where we see their plans come to fruition, outwitting their gormless employers as Kit-taek’s family insidiously inculcate themselves into the Park home.

From there the film makes one of several radical shifts in tone, a trademark of Bong’s cinema. What’s particularly gratifying is that even though you know something is inevitably coming, it remains a shock, a beautifully executed change of power dynamic that injects more humour and more horror into the film.

The film delves into major social issues, especially in terms of class and the divide between rich and poor (and even North and South) in Korea. Some of this is over-the-top and overt, other elements far more subtle, throwing almost any mechanism possible to brew this remarkable film. The Park’s home, built by a celebrated architect, is all clean, horizontal lines and organic or finely sculpted materials, while Ki-taek’s sub-basement is a veritable lair, with clutter everywhere and even a toilet location that feels more like a torture chamber.

This visual and spatial divide is toyed with, going beyond the initial overt imagery into something deeper. There’s a running gag about an item being a “metaphor”, calling attention to the symbology explicitly and then consistently twisting and undercutting what at first may have appeared overt. The result is a whirling dervish of mood, shifting in an instant from intensely violent to broadly comical without missing a beat.

A great deal of the fun is found in the surprise of these shifts, but there’s so much at play with regards to the thematic themes both large and small that it’s not a film whose balloon is popped once the surprises are revealed. What’s clear, however, is that Bong and his collaborators have beautifully pulled of quite the con themselves, twisting audience emotions and expectations so we’re completely in their hands.

Parasite is such a pleasure, a film that unabashedly takes the audience along for a twisty, twisted ride and gets under your skin. With mind-warping shifts in tone and storyline, there’s a feeling that you’re getting more bang from Bong than in a dozen lesser films. It’s a mighty work from a mighty director, and a master who schools the world on how a film like this can be so deftly pulled off.  

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

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About the Author

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor of ThatShelf.com, Features Editor at DTK Magazine and a critic for HighDefDigest.