Alongside names like Park Chan-wook, Lee Chang-dong, or Kim Jee-woon, Bong Joon-ho is one among the most widely recognizable of South Korea’s own auteurs but his own approach to genre cinema is every bit as distinguishable from the rest. With his willingness to flourish in black comedy, there’s no doubt that Bong Joon-ho can create some of the most entertaining films of his kind. With his newest film, Bong Joon-ho goes a whole other route and creates a social satire unlike any other – one that beautifully mixes elements of mystery, thriller, comedy in a matter that’s almost unfathomable in Parasite. It’s a film of an indescribable beauty, but for every moment that surprises its own viewers there’s also something more meaningful to be found on the inside. Like all of Bong Joon-ho’s movies, it only promises more and more as it finds ways to feed your expectations and to say that all of them are met with Parasite is a mere understatement, it’s a film that creeps up on you slowly and transforms so much more than what you’re seeing on the surface.
Fittingly enough for the film’s title, we are introduced to a poor family – one that could look just like those we know around ourselves. This is the family of Kim Ki-Taek (Song Kang-ho), which already resembles a nuclear family. His wife, Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), is devoted to keeping the family as healthy as possible. His son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), is always looking for a means to contact the outside via a Wi-fi signal. His daughter, Ki-jung (Park So-dam) is a skilled forger. Eventually, they are put into good use after Ki-woo’s friend makes an offer to take on the position of being a tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family. As we study both families’ routines, how they both feel about one another, there comes a breaking point that only turns the divide between the rich and the poor a whole other level. If anything else best describes what makes the title “Parasite” so fitting for this pitch perfect satire from Bong Joon-ho, it’s already best described by Ki-woo’s noting of great art being “metaphorical.”
Bong Joon-ho’s approach is a very peculiar one, always willing to approach uncomfortable subject matter yet inject traces of dark comedy in order to make everything seem more tangible. In the case of Parasite, he already seems to have found himself at a creative peak, where he’s found a subject that perfectly suits his approach but also remains as provocative as ever, as the nature of the mannerisms of the Kim and Park families come to the screen. We are introduced to the Kim family as a group that lives together with one another in a house that’s also a semi-basement, but the Park family lives a lavish life carefree of how people on the outside view them – only with the greatest care being placed around the image that they possess around others. On the other hand, the Kim family tries to make the most out of what little resources they have, but still carry a kind attitude around others – which easily wins over the favour of the Park family, for they still do not see through the cracks that actually define the Kim family. They are smart, without education – yet the Park family, as highly educated as they aspire to be, are naive at most.
That’s not where the fun of watching Parasite meets its end though, because Bong Joon-ho throws numerous twists to come along the way and every one of them turns out as surprising as the last. Yet it also makes the satire even more meaningful too, particularly given the mannerisms that the poor have that keep them at a distance from the rich. But seeing how far does Bong Joon-ho take the core concept of the film, he slowly turns one’s expectations a whole other direction in the very way that all of his best films have done so and what soon comes forth for the ride only becomes even more eerie and chilling, yet wholly entertaining too. There’s a whole lot of fun to be had with how much further can a concept like such be taken and if anything else makes Bong Joon-ho’s vision even more provocative. Like Ki-woo would say, there’s also something beautifully “metaphorical” about how the title would apply to the concept, but it also leaves you under the impression you’ll never underestimate the character that defines the poor communities rather than the rich, given the circumstances where they’re living.
Yet even as it seems everything is also becoming so much fun to consume, it also happens to be Bong Joon-ho at a more melancholy state. With a concept that revolves around a poor family trying to find a way of making their own sense of living even better by continuously feeding off of a wealthier family, the final reveals only turn the ride a whole other direction: what once showed itself to be an occasionally funny if also thrilling ride also becomes more hopeful, yet still melancholy. In the extended final sequence, you’re also set up for what only becomes arguably the most melancholy moments that Bong Joon-ho has ever been able to capture on film, but the way in which he mixes the tones into such a work has never felt more at ease with one another than it has in Parasite. Not since Memories of Murder has he made a film that beautifully mixes subject matter that would be considered taboo by societal norms with enough black comedy to keep oneself having fun with whatever it is that they’re witnessing, but there’s a certain readiness that he carries in Parasite that also makes the explosion that comes out from the climax feel earned. And it was at that moment where I felt awe, unlike anything else.
Parasite is a film that I’m still thinking about bit by bit, because I’ve never quite had an experience that was always so willing to set my expectations one way and break them by going a whole other way too – though perhaps it’s also definitive of what makes a Bong Joon-ho film distinct as such. This could arguably be his best film too, because it’s without a doubt his most provocative, most socially aware, and for every bit of everything that it offers there’s a whole lot more that comes along the way. You’ll only know so much through the concept of a poor family trying to adapt to a better lifestyle by feeding off of a rich family like a parasite, as the title would describe, but seeing where Bong Joon-ho is able to take such a concept you’re only going to be expecting surprise after surprise in such a way that you wont leave the film underestimating what it is that he’s able to work with. If there’s any film where he’s found a creative peak, then I have no trouble with saying that it could very easily be this one. And perhaps it’s only set to become even more wonderful from there onward, after all, it’s very “metaphorical.”
Watch the trailer right here.
Images via TIFF.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won
Produced by Kwak Sin-ae, Moon Yang-kwon, Jang Young-hwan
Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam
Release Date: May 21, 2019 (Cannes)
Running Time: 132 minutes