“Parasite” from master filmmaker Bong Joon-ho brings his inimitable microcosmic style to tell the tale of family and economic struggle. With a strong cast and story, the Highly Recommended “Parasite” will have you talking about the film long after the house lights come up.
Distilling our existence in to a confined microcosm is no easy feat; the emotions behind our living conditions, our desires and wants, our purpose defines many of these traits. They are fluid aspects of our growth which, master filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer,” “Okja”) has tapped into in a powerful way.
His latest film, “Parasite” is a multi-faceted study of how we treat one another and how economics shapes our segmented and shared realities.
“Parasite” is ultimately defined through the Kim’s interconnectedness as a family, living in a shabby tenement working job to job. We get a sense from Bong’s story that they mean well, but are more interested in keeping the family unit together than finding meaningful work. There is a level of intelligence in each of the Kim family members.
Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) as the head of the Kim family; is an unemployed driver. He isn’t lazy, but we get a sense that he doesn’t really want to pursue opportunities either, leaving those chores to son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam).
Humor defines the Kim’s situation early on. Having been cut off from the rest of the world when the neighbor whose internet they were piggybacking off changes their router password, an alarmed Chung-sook quickly asks Ki-woo to find an alternative connection, ensuring they stay connected to What’s App. Ki-woo finally finds an open signal while sitting on an elevated commode in a secluded corner of the flat. Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography during these early scenes establish the family’s destitute nature.
Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon), a schoolmate of Ki-jung’s stops by, delivering a large rock from his grandfather’s garden. A metaphor, the rock is supposed to bring them wealth, but its meaning is far deeper. Through a closeness between Min-hyuk and Ki-jung, it is suggested that Ki-jung tutor Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), the Park family’s daughter. Ki-jung is hesitant at first. Not looking for a handout, he relents.
This transition allows Bong to establish just how resourceful the Kim family is; they are on guard for any trouble. It also establishes just how susceptible the Park family is. Bong’s movement through this transition is much like a ballet, fitting the correct pieces together. There is humor in how the Kim’s ingratiate themselves into the Park’s lives one by one.
Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) is the CEO of a major firm; Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) is in charge of the home. They are comfortable in knowing that complete strangers are taking care of their every need, including Ki-jung’s eventual art therapy sessions with Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon), their traumatized son who has a ‘flare’ for art.
Bong contrasts the minimalized nature of Mr. and Mrs. Park with a richly appointed home adorned with warm woods, natural light and open spaces. The home has an austere symmetry that complements the compartmentalized nature of the Park family; itself a stark comparison to the Kim family’s connectedness within the cramped confines of their urban basement flat.
On the surface, the Kim’s “encroachment” is humorous and natural as each of the Park family’s needs are met through a corresponding member of the Kim family; no stone is unturned, except for the housekeeper, Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun).
“Parasite” has an interconnectedness through the story as the characters’ attachment to one another becomes complete. However, there are also small tidbits of dialog that serve to reinforce the economic separation between the Park’s and the Kim’s lives; a distaste that the Kim’s can’t overcome.
Bong addresses this through an unexpectedly violent turn of events, first through tragedy affecting the Kim’s and a desire for the Park’s to connect with each other, something that is in direct opposition to their new lifestyles. The parasitic connection turns to symbiosis as the Kim’s become comfortable in their new surroundings and the Park’s forcefully continue to get their family connected.
Even through the tragedy, Bong establishes hope that they each can learn from the experiences; the Kim’s face the harsher of the consequences, but the Parks pay the heavier of prices because the Kim’s have something that money can’t buy.
“Parasite” is a strong film that deals with a multitude of family issues with real world consequences, representing its well-earned Palme d’Or. The horror isn’t so much the violence. To be sure the violence is shocking, but a surface level treatment as it underpins the tragedy within each family’s circumstances that brings them together and ultimately tears them apart.
Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay by: Bon Joon-ho and Han Jin-won
Story by: Bon Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun
R, 132 minutes, A NEON/CJ Entertainment Release, Korean with English subtitles