PARASITE 기생충 is a Magnum Opus of an Emotional Gut Punch That Defies Categorisation
All unemployed, Kim Ki-taek’s family takes a peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks for their livelihood.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo
Country: South Korea
Runtime: 131 minutes
Reviewed by: Leticia Sim
Dear reader: if you haven’t seen the Palme d’Or winning Parasite, do yourself a favour and search up the nearest theatre screening it, and buy a ticket right now. I mean it. Now. Watch it with a packed audience, all laughing, gasping, and crying at the same time. If possible, click away from this review now. Seriously, it’s best if you going in knowing nothing, or at the very least, just the basic premise.
If you’ve chosen to continue reading, then pardon my French, but holy fuck! Bong Joon Ho, the indisputable South Korean auteur himself, has done it again. As a filmmaker, Bong has never stopped observing the world around him—particularly his home of South Korea—one whose social disparity has only grown bleaker and even more pervasive. In Parasite, his rage at the classist hierarchy is palpable, hard-hitting, and incredibly visceral in every single frame, from start to end.
There’s a lot to unpack in Parasite, a biting satirical dissection of class imbalance—the film sees Bong extending each limb into a different territory of film genre, revisiting themes of class struggle and capitalism, though less explicitly portrayed than in Snowpiercer and to a lesser extent Okja. His razor sharp observations are amplified through every technical element in Parasite, unleashing the tonal mastery he’s honed over the years with a crazy roller coaster ride that is at the same time funny, intense, enraging, shocking, moving, and poignant—all executed surprisingly coherently so.
At the risk of revealing too much, Parasite follows the endearing tight-knit Kims, an unemployed family living in a cramped, squalid sub-basement apartment. They struggle to find menial jobs, even resorting to stealing WiFi from anyone nearby without a password. The Parks, on the other hand, are a charming and wealthy family, albeit a tad ignorant. Ever the resourceful opportunist, son Ki-Woo latches onto the gullible Mrs Park, and concocts a sinister plan to secure employment for his entire family in the Park household. The Kims rely on impersonation to get by, one that fools both the entire Park household, themselves, and the viewer.
Bong is masterful in his control of both the viewer and film, lulling us into a false sense of security with humour and hijinks—borderlining slapstick—in the first act, playing it out almost like a heist, while slowly planting metaphorical seeds and meticulous set-ups through not-so-subtle imagery. The Kims’ cutthroat intelligence and sharp personalities effortlessly charm us, and it’s so much fun to watch. Until it isn’t.
This devastating study of families dealing with excess and insufficiency forces the viewer to inevitably feel for both parties—subverting any expectations we may have. Bong purposefully portrays the Park family as well-meaning and seemingly kind; he laughs in the face at our preconceived notions of the upper and working class, syphoning these two worlds and blurring the lines into a narrative so intertwined that one cannot morally separate one from the other. It’s almost as if at every twist and turn, we are punished for being quick to sympathise with either party.
To quote a certain character in the film: “This is so metaphorical!” Stairs, rocks, rain, scents, dogs, space—everyday objects and elements are seamlessly incorporated with heavy subtext just begging to be analysed by critics and cinephiles for years to come. Fervent attention is paid to details—like recurring mentions of objects, places, and set pieces—to subtle changes in dialogue—like when patriarch Ki-taek starts calling his daughter by her faux English name “Jessica” even in the absence of the Parks. Bong’s ideas flourish and breathe with sublime execution thanks to the excellent fully fleshed out ensemble cast and lavish orchestral score which not only accentuates the story, but also comes off like a snarky jab at the excessive lifestyles of the privileged.
Parasite, in my mind, is the thematic and technical culmination of Bong’s entire filmography; blistering social commentary that can be interpreted at a universal level. A wild roller coaster ride of hilarious, soaring highs and intense, shocking plunges, one can’t help but to be left pondering as the credits roll if the parasites in question are the poor families feeding off the wealthy, or the top 1% who leech off the labour of the majority working class.
As shockingly scathing in its critique of class division, Parasite is also quick to turn on its head in the blink of an eye—enough to give you whiplash. Bring a seatbelt. And maybe also a life jacket.