“Parasite” Movie Review


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“Parasite” is a Korean foriegn language film presented with English subtitles.     

     Writer / Director Bong Joon-ho reexamines the complex and always timely issue of class within society, but this time leaves the futuristic science fiction setting of his acclaimed 2013 film “Snowpiercer” for a present day take on the material with “Parasite”, the winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  And though many of the overall themes are similar to his past work, Joon-ho’s dark satire meshed with the difficulties of existence within the social circles of people who have less than you or more than you resonates on any entirely different level as a commentary on where we are as people, and how low we have sunk.  It’s when a film is actually about something relatable to anyone who see it, that we begin to talk about a film as being one of the best of the year.  Fact is, “Parasite” is not only one of the most original movie ideas I’ve seen in quite some time, it would be appropriate to reference the film as being a cinematic creation worthy of a ten best list for an entire decade.

     This is a film which brings together each and every element necessary to be considered amongst the very few that may endure the test of time and become an instant classic.  Each and every frame is meticulously crafted by Joon-ho and his team, which includes haunting work by his cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong and production designer Ha-jun Lee.  But at the heart of every great film is its screenplay, provided here by Joon-ho and Han Jin Won.  If there is going to be direct competition to “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” for this year’s Original Screenplay Oscar, this will be it.  

     The story initially follows the Kims, an impoverished South Korean family of four living in a cluttered small basement apartment below a coffee shop within a densely populated and run down area of the city.  They all seem to display positive attitudes given the circumstances where each is unemployed and are forced as a group to take on odd jobs like folding pizza boxes just to put food on the table.  Hilariously, that’s actually not their priority, as the lengths each will go to get a bar of WiFi signal for their smartphones is one of the first true forms of social commentary on display in a film full of it. 

     The father, Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) comically leaves the street level window open as the city fumigator sprays the streets in order to get free pest control within their apartment.  His wife, Chung-Took (Hye-jin Jang), son, Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), and daughter, Ki-jung (So-dam Park) are not amused as the struggling group gasps for air within a cloud of green and likely poisonous smoke.  But hey, the stink bugs are irritating.  Got to get rid of them!  There lives are clearly in shambles, but a lucky break is about to come their way.

     A friend of Ki-woo’s, Min (Seo-joon Park), asks him to take over an English tutoring job for a high school aged girl, Da-hye (Ji-so Jung), whose family, the Parks, are wealthy.  Min, who is about to leave the country to study abroad, wants Ki-woo to take on the commitment because he fears if another college student gets the gig, his plans to someday take Da-hye’s hand in marriage will be lost.  But for some reason, he trusts his friend to not do the same thing.  Probably not a good bet on Min’s part since Ki-woo, with the help of his sister’s abilities with Photoshop and document forgery, gets the job when Da-hye’s mother, Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo), is blown away by both his teaching methods and ability to connect with her daughter.  That connection, of course, becomes something more in no time.

     So where do the twists begin? Yeon-kyo, a house wife whose husband, Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee), is a wealthy businessman, employs a live in house keeper, Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee), as well as a driver, and Ki-woo as a regular tutor.  Their young son, Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung), is said to have a knack for creating artful paintings, of which his mother believes is an indication of talent that needs to be honed.  Seeing the obvious opening, Ki-woo recommends his sister, Ki-jung, as an ace art instructor who would be perfect to bring out the best in her son.  Of course Yeon-kyo has no idea she is Ki-woo’s sister, and gladly hires her after seeing another with an uncanny ability to connect to one of her children.  But then the plot thickens, leading the audience on a series of paths no one in a movie theater could possibly predict.

     The performances by the ensemble cast power the story to heights we wouldn’t expect from a comedic take on the differences between the poor and the wealthy.  This kind of material typically delves into a series of stereotypes that often stray from the realities of life in order to give certain groups of people identifiable characteristics in a story.  Joon-ho avoids that trap by building the worlds of these two families from the ground up.  You believe the Parks minimalistic, yet impeccably decorated mansion is truly their home, as the details of the kid’s bedrooms, the living room that looks out into a lush green backyard, and the kitchen area where the housekeeper is constantly preparing meals are all indicative of a well appointed lifestyle seemingly operating like a well oiled machine.  But that’s until the Kims enter the fray.  Bringing with them the clutter of their disorganized and frantic lives where money is difficult to come by and their nightly entertainment resides with the regular appearance of a drunk who utilizes their apartment window as a toilet.

     The thought processes of both families as they begin to interconnect with one another become apparent in the moments after several key scenes where the observations of each other’s demeanor and habits are discussed.  The Kims are envious of the amount of space the Parks have in comparison to their current unmanageable living conditions.  The Parks on the other hand, have snide discussions commenting on the unmistakable smell of their new help.  Sometimes doing so in their presence.  As Dong-ik puts it to Yeon-kyo in an early conversation, the expectation is the people they hire should never cross the line.  We know what he really means, but the exploration of these characters as they’re put to the test in a series of impossible scenarios concocted by Joon-ho is one of the most satisfying movie experiences I’ve had all year.  GRADE: A