March 17, 2020

“Parasite” Review: A Riveting Commentary on Social Class

The film's sweeping night at the Oscars was a lovely surprise.
Parasite is the first film since 2013 to be unanimously voted to win the highest honor, the Palme d’Or, at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. It’s won over fifty awards and has been nominated for over a hundred (including being the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards).

If that doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what will. Parasite came roaring into the US months after its win at Cannes, and since then, accolade upon accolade has been lauded upon it. It reached the tops of many critics’ best of the year list, and some best of the decade. It’s being adapted into a television miniseries for HBO and is one of the highest-grossing films in South Korea.

It’s a wonder that not many people know about it. It was never given a well-publicized wide release (in the United States, at least), and has a plot that can be seen as confusing if not explained properly.

Allow me to elaborate as best I can, without giving anything away.

The members of the entirely unemployed Kim family scheme to become employed by the much wealthier Park family after the son of the family, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) is hired by the Parks to tutor their daughter. The Kims come up with a plan to infiltrate the household and posing as unrelated, highly qualified individuals, becoming, as the title suggests, “parasites.”

I found it beneficial to go into this movie as story-blind as possible, so everything is a surprise and I wouldn’t know where the story is going next. And yes, there were a fair amount of surprised, but generally it played out as I expected. Granted, there were some twists and pitfalls I never could have predicted, and those contributed to the outcome of the film in a truly satisfying way. The conclusion is filled with edge-of-your-seat, nail-bitingly tense moments, and I found it to be one of the best parts of the movie. Well worth sitting through the rest.
The Kim family struggles with unemployment.

Another strong point of the film was Song Kang-ho as Ki-taek, the father of the Kim family, who brings such an emotionally raw performance that’ll leave you turning over Ki-taek’s scenes in your mind, remembering grippingly real facial expressions and turning points in his character’s arc, and analyzing the links between them. It’s a movie that makes you think.

I’m consistently surprised by the quality and unique style that Bong Joon-Ho brings to his films. My personal favorite was, and still is, his 2013 sci-fi adaptation Snowpiercer (during production of which Joon-ho came up with the idea for Parasite), which is so starkly different from Parasite it’s hard to believe they came from the same director. Joon-ho also directed 2006’s monster horror The Host and 2016’s Netflix film Okja.

Parasite was certainly an interesting experience. On one hand, it was a tense, well-acted thriller that is a smart commentary on the divide between rich and poor, and the advantages and disadvantages of the class system. However, on the other hand, it was the repurposing of a classic clichéd story, albeit one that still aims to thrill and entertain, and mostly succeeds. [Grade: A]

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Writer: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam
Rated: R for language, some violence and sexual content
Available: Hulu
Fun Fact: The films aspect ratio of 2:35 was chosen in order to accommodate the large family groups in a single frame.

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