As I discussed yesterday, we’re finally in my favorite time of the year, when all of the critical darling films that have been playing festivals finally get released to the masses. And, of all the films of 2019 I think one of my most anticipated has been the latest film by Bong Joon-ho, Parasite. The film premiered in May, and has been slowly gaining a powerful reputation as one of the year’s finest films, being hailed as a completely masterpiece while virtually everyone who has seen it has begged people to go into it as blind as possible. And, while that’s occasionally difficult being someone as plugged into the internet as I am, I gave it my best shot, only having seen the trailer, which is shockingly sparse on plot details. But, Bong Joon-ho’s name attached was honestly enough for me to give it a shot, since the man’s films have frequently ranked as some of the best of the past few decades, quickly establishing himself as one of the most consistently fascinating directors working today. So, I sat down to see Parasite, really having no idea what to expect. It seemed like a strange look at class struggles, but other than that I had nothing to base my opinions off. And, I’m very thankful for that, because this film is a goddamn roller coaster. So, I highly recommend seeing the film before learning anything more about it.
That said, let’s dive in.
Parasite primarily follows the Kim family, an extremely lower class family living in a basement apartment, struggling to survive. They mooch WiFi, fold pizza boxes for a living, and generally fight to survive every day. Which is why the son, Ki-woo, jumps at the chance to become an English tuter for a wealthy family after his friend Min-hyuk has to leave to study abroad. Min-hyuk sets Ki-woo up with a recommendation, and his sister Ki-jeong helps forge some credentials so that Ki-woo can interview with the incredibly wealth Park family in order to teach their daughter Da-hye English. And, when there Ki-woo is stunned by both the family’s wealth, and the mother’s naivete. He gets the job, and immediately sees an in for his sister as well, because the Park’s have a rambunctious younger son Da-song who they see as an art prodigy. So, Ki-woo suggests an acquaintance of his, “Jessica,” who is just his sister Ki-jeong. She nails her interview as well, and gets welcomed into the family, leading the siblings to realize they need to keep the scam going. They then work to frame the other two household employees, the driver and the housekeeper Moon-gwang, so that the Parks fire them. At which point they helpfully recommend people they know, their father Ki-taek and mother Chung-sook, for the jobs. Which, works perfectly. So, unbeknownst to the Park family, the entire Kim family has now begun working for them, earning a decent living off these simple rich folk.
And everything continues to go swimmingly until the Park’s announce that they’re going on a camping trip for Da-song’s birthday. The Kim’s decide to take over the house and party to their success, when a rainstorm kicks up. And, as they celebrate their good fortune, they’re surprised when Moon-gwang shows up, asking if she can get something she left from the basement. They decide to allow her, but end up finding that she has gone to a secret sub-basement panic room hidden in the basement where she has been secretly keeping her husband for years. The Park’s are unaware that the basement even exists, and Moon-gwang just wants to free her husband. But, she ends up piecing it together that the Kim’s aren’t who they seem, and they end up in a position of mutually assured destruction, since they both could reveal the truth to the Parks. This results in a massive brawl that finally ends with Moon-gwang and her husband tied up and left in the hidden basement until they can come up with something, which becomes more difficult when the Park’s return home due to the rainstorm. And, the next day the Park’s decide to instead throw a massive soiree, not realizing that the Kim family’s home has flooded due to rainstorm, ruining their lives.
But, they all come to work the next day to be bossed around, when they decide to check on their prisoners. And, things have turned very bad. Moon-gwang has died during the night, and her husband frees himself, badly wounding Ki-woo. He then grabs a knife and stumbles out into the party where he stabs and kills Ki-jeong. Chung-sook is able to kill the man, but Ki-taek finds Park demand that he leaves his dying daughter behind to tend to Da-song, who had a seizure during the horror. And, having snapped, Chung-sook kills Mr. Park and flees into the neighborhood as panic ensues. Ki-woo and Chung-sook survive the ordeal and are arrested for their crimes, but end up getting out on probation. Ki-taek however vanished, until Ki-woo follows up on a hunch, and learns that his father is hidden in the same basement that Moon-gwan and her husband had been in, communicating with the world through Morse Code and some lights he can control. So, Ki-woo begins planning a way to free his father, involving him becoming rich enough to afford the house and buy it so his father can peacefully escape.
Parasite is a magic trick of a film. Boon Joon-ho is a truly fantastic director, having shown over the years his ability to create funny, heartfelt, terrifying, and poignant films, sometimes managing to combine all four to create movies unlike many you’ve ever seen before. So, going into this film, I wasn’t really sure what mode to expect Joon-ho to be operating in. And, for a while, it seemed like he was in a social satire mode, and it was genuinely funny. Seeing the Kim family continually trick the Park family into letting them take control of their house was really fun, and the characters were all really funny. But, like a switch being flipped, everything changes during that rainstorm. What had been silly and fun suddenly becomes terrifying and ominous, in a move that easily could have derailed any sort of momentum the film had going, but ends up carrying you perfectly through that bumpy transition gliding effortlessly between two very different moods. And it’s masterful. The film becomes downright terrifying, juggling several heart-pounding set pieces until everything explodes at the end. The entire time Joon-ho was building a bomb around you, and you don’t even realize until the trigger is pressed. This is a film that people are going to study, and that I don’t know if I’ll be able to fully appreciate until several more viewings, unpeeling all the various layers of this fascinating and universal little film.
And, one of the things that I find so interesting about the film is the fact that Bong Joon-ho seems shocked about the appeal that the film has garnered. I’ve seen interviews with him where he wasn’t expecting this to be such a universal film, apparently thinking he was making a pretty singularly South Korean film. And yet, what he didn’t anticipate was the fact that while I’m sure there’s a lot of specifics to South Korean culture, the central ideas of the film have sadly become pretty damned universal. Because, the entire world has essentially become ravaged by Capitalism at this point, and it becomes an increasingly universal idea that the rich are killing us all. The Parks are a bunch of lucky idiots, living in a castle on the hill and existing in their own beautiful little world, completely unaware at the horrors going on in their own city. They hire and fire people on whims, not caring about what it will do to these people’s lives. Meanwhile, the Kim’s live on the opposite side of the stick, put into a position to literally destroy other people’s lives in order to survive. Because that’s what the world has become. We’re all fighting for the ability to merely exist, fighting each other for the few scraps that the rich deign to pass out, while they live in pleasant luxury, their only real worry that the troubles of the real world were to bother them. Kim Ki-taek kills Mr. Park after seeing Moon-gwang’s husband die because he’s finally realized that Park sees him as little more than an object, a disgusting necessity to make his life easier, and decided to get some revenge. Apparently Bong Joon-ho didn’t realize that a rallying cry for societal revolution was going to be a universal thing, but that’s just the world we currently are stuck in.
Parasite was written by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, directed by Bong Joon-ho, and released by CJ Entertainment, 2019.
Categories: Reel Talk