Originally reviewed as part of our Cannes Film Festival coverage in May 2019.
There’s a lesser version of this film full of simple, signposted twists, broad, caricatured performances, and crude, obvious metaphors. Apart from a brief sequence early in the first act, Bong Joon-ho’s phenomenal Parasite never threatens to disappoint you like that.
Coming at you like Ken Loach with a sense of humour, Bong, Kim Dae-hwan and Jin Won Han’s script (based on Hitoshi Iwaaki’s seemingly unrelated comic) introduces a breadline South Korean family living in a squalid city basement and hustling hard, but legally, to survive. That line blurs slightly as Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), the son, takes a tutoring job with a rich family, beginning a blackly comic Robin Hood-esque tale that soon takes a turn.
Knowing more would ruin the film’s thrilling and unpredictable plot, but it’s enough to say that this is most of all an empathetic and pragmatic take on social mobility and how the system so often pits working class people against each other. The script is a watertight masterpiece of suspense and humour, trading the two impulses off against each other in a rollercoaster of a con.
Bong’s formal brilliance is simply breathtaking, with one centrepiece montage prompting spontaneous applause in its thrilling combination of silky camerawork, frame-perfect editing and electrifying score.
Immense credit should also go to the ensemble cast, who shift moods at the drop of a hat, keeping it unclear just who is deceiving who and where everyone’s loyalties lie. It feels unfair to pick a standout, but Song Kang-ho (as father of the family Ki-taek) is the heart of the film, representing the flashpoint of Bong’s class commentary and providing its softer side amongst a film of wicked comedy and tragic violence.
Parasite is a complex, thrilling and audacious social satire, and an instant contender for film of the year.
CAST: Song Kang Ho, Lee Sun Kyun, Cho Yeo Jeong, Choi Woo Shik, Park So Dam
DIRECTOR: Bong Joon-ho
WRITERS: Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won Han, Kim Dae-hwan
SYNOPSIS: All unemployed, Ki-taek’s family takes peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks for their livelihood until they get entangled in an unexpected incident.