Director Bong Joon-ho, co-writing with Han Jin-won creates a stunningly crafted portrait of the haves and have-nots-but-want in his scintillating Oscar-winning achievement, Parasite. It begins with a sudden drop in wi-fi and you titter at the frenzy this cut-off sets off. For someone like the Kim family, at the receiving end of this network and consequently social network disruption, for whom parking the next morsel into their ravenous mouths is a constant struggle, you’d think not being able to access WhatsApp would be a non-issue. But data—and access to it—isn’t just more precious than oil. It’s also the essential protein ribbon that ties and undoes all our lives simultaneously. It’s also the weapon of insidious and comically suspenseful communication as the movie triumphantly blazes ahead.
The Kims live in the basement of a rundown building on a ramshackle street. Calling it a street would make any town planner worth their suborn blush, and this room with a bottom-up view has its share of IMAX-like entertainment when the streetdrunk waltzes by with clock-like regularity to pass his alcoholic toxins onto the wayside and through their window. In this box-like space does the family fold pizza boxes to push through and an early scene with their boss sets the tone for the family’s streetwise ways. The cast is marvelous: as father Ki-taek, Song Kang-ho grafts his character’s struggles with a lovely touch of blasé gratefulness; as the mother Chung-sook, Jang Hye-jin is all rough caring, as if coarsened by scouring her living space. And as their unrelentingly unctuous offsprings Ki-woo/Kevin and Ki-jung/Jessica, Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam are a chillingly uncomfortable prism of how the yawning socio-economic divide propels enterprising youth to do anything to get the life they deserve.
That socio-economic cleave hits the Ki household when Kevin gets a break in entrepreneur Park Dong-ik/Nathan’s (played with smooth cockiness by Lee Sun-kyun) home as an English tutor to the Parks’ daughter Da Hye (Ji-so Jung). That break is mainly because of Nathan’s wife Choi Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo Jeong simply superb in her act of upper-class naiveté and primness). Choi is also worried about their younger son Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun) and his strange behavior, especially on canvas. In swift, beautifully cut scenes, the entire Kim family is inveigled into the tony Park home as unrelated-to-each-other staff. But it is the displacing of their trustworthy, dependable housekeeper Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun, superb) that’s the shotgun for setting into motion events that quickly spiral from satire to black comedy to murderous tension, eventually exploding into a horrifying climactic party.
Director Joon-ho pulls off Parasite with such cinematic finesse, you can’t help but wonder how he did it. The writing’s rock solid and every scene is a masterclass in mood cinematography (Hong Kyung-pyo); and when the director and Kyung-pyo crack open the chasm between uptown facilities and disenfranchised localities in a stunningly shot, pulse-pounding rainy night sequence, you gasp at the sheer rawness of it all. Adding to the tension is the moody, classical score by Jung Jae-il that segues to dark notes alongside the movie.
Parasite is a winner not just because it spotlights these societal cracks and gaps; it’s brilliant because it gets increasingly discomfiting in its running time, and slowly, you’re not sure who you want to root for. It rips off the classic approach of cinematic story-telling that nudges your sympathies for a pre-decided lot. Here, you are increasingly conflicted, not wanting to sit on the fence, but not knowing which way to go either.
Meanwhile, the Park home is an architectural metaphor for our civic structure: the top floor is all of us with privileges that we take for granted. The fusty, dark basement, long forgotten and out of the way of the path to the top floor is the bottomless pit of despair, where the struggle for daily survival is real and ruthless. And the Parks aren’t bad folks, really. Money truly irons out personality creases, but it just can’t cover biases. Nathan Park can smell out the subway travellers from a distance and it bothers him. But in an ironic and double-standard wallop and Joon-ho’s nod to exploitation (though that isn’t dealt with here), the smell and thought of a woman’s panties traveling those very tubes turns him on.
But Parasite premises itself on the biggest irony of our times. The lower working class and the ones they work for share an inescapable, bitter-sweet symbiotic relationship. They both feed off of each other and can’t, just can’t do without this blood-sucking till-death-do-us-apart marriage. While you’ll never look at at smart-device controlled lights the same way ever again and definitely ponder about the clear sky after a heavy night’s deluge, the movie’s biggest revelation of them all comes during these paranoid, dystopian times, as we all hunker down within the comfort of our homes to escape being infected: it’s all very well going on Insta and other social media purring contentedly about making lemonade when life’s given you organic lemons. But what do you make it with when there’s only the stink of sewage water all around you?Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.
Parasite is streaming on Amazon Prime and is rated A (Restricted to adults). Intense sequences, violence, and a sensual couch session.
Director Bong Joon-ho Time 2h 12min
Writers Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won
Stars Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo Jeong, Lee Sun-kyun, Lee Jung-eun
Genres Comedy, Drama, Thriller