Bong Joon-ho, one of South Korea’s most prolific filmmakers, decided to grace the world with one of the most bizarre and fascinating movies of 2019. Parasite movie is about a poor family steadily infiltrating the household of their upper-class employers through fraud, by pretending to be more qualified, educated, and prestigious than they are in order to swipe the job openings and be overpaid in doing so. Without giving away too much, hijinks ensue.
Many critics are calling Parasite one of the best movies of the year. I concur. It’s very hard to review this movie without spoiling it, so if you wish to avoid that, just skip to the final paragraph.
I went into Parasite completely blind. I only knew the director, Bong Joon-ho, the poster, and the title. I was expecting a horror movie. In fact, I was so convinced that it was a horror movie, that halfway through the film when a massive revelation involving the family’s housemaid is revealed, I fully expected it to turn into a horror film at that point. I was completely unable to predict what was happening in this movie, and that mystery is something that most movies and TV shows try to create, but few succeed in doing so. Subverting expectations and executing twists and turns effectively is certainly an art. I think Bong Joon-ho deserves credit for being consistent at keeping his audience on his toes in his films and for juggling atmospheric twists exceedingly well.
And boy, does Parasite take you on a roller coaster of “That was funny!” to “What the hell did I just watch?” in the best way possible. If you’re a fan of heist films, dark comedies, or both, Parasite easily is in the upper tier of both genres. If you’re a fan of Bong Joon-ho, this might be his best-directed film thus far. If you’re a fan of Song Kang-ho, this is one of his best performances. If you’re a fan of good cinema, Parasite is certainly a good movie.
How do I even begin to discuss this film without babbling incoherently?
As I said, Parasite - sore movie has a scummy group of con artists come from a lower-class background steadily take down a naïve and condescending ultra-rich couple. The couple is not particularly likable, given these traits, and it’s easy to root for the downtrodden and charming lower-class family as they infiltrate the ranks of the 1%. However, as the film goes on, the measures that the poor family undertakes in order to come out on top gradually become less comedic and more despicable in nature. And while the rich family is not particularly wholesome, either, they aren’t complete monsters. One can’t help but feel sorry for them, and especially the people around them. The lower-class family isn’t doing this just for fun - it’s more about survival; that being said, they have a lot of fun doing it. But of course, wealth corrupts, and the idea of being in that powerful position slowly gets to the heads of all the scammers. And they get less grateful for pulling off a scam and get paid and begin to resent their wealthy employers. As I said before, hijinks ensue. This is somewhat of an “eat the rich” narrative.
That being said, my one qualm with the film is that the theme of class divide does get muddied down with a very mixed message that emerges from the explosive climax in the film. Essentially, the climax (I won’t dare spoil it) occurs, and the next 15 minutes of the movie is an epilogue to those events. And while it’s a fascinating ending, I can’t help but have felt confused as to what exactly Bong Joon-ho’s thesis for this movie was. How far should people go to close the wealth gap? Is there such a good thing as a good rich person? Does class determine morality? Do people overthink class? So many questions popped up in my head, and for a while, I wondered if there was some sort of cultural context I could not grasp, as I have zero affiliation with South Korea or Asia as a whole, but I don’t think that was it. Essentially, this movie is trying to say something; I couldn’t easily determine what. But at least I had a grasp of what it was poking at, and I appreciated it.
While the poor aren’t cast in an ideal light, neither are the rich. It’s a bit of good and bad sprinkled into both sides of the table. On the one hand, the poor are presented as cunning, family oriented, and talented. However, they are also just as susceptible to greed as the rich and are certainly unethical. On the other hand, the rich are presented as kind, intelligent, and hard-working. And of course, they are also naïve, out of touch, and condescending. Neither side is fully genuine, interestingly. And this class of classes is what sets up the great highs for comedy mining and likewise, dramatic tension.
Think of it in these terms: If Jordan Peele’s Get Out had a clear ending that everyone watching understood, then his other film, Us was just as well directed, but sloppier in its message. That being said…Parasite is better than Us. I think it is a tad more focused in its themes and doesn’t slow down or waste screen time. This movie is a whirlwind, and it’s going to leave you just as baffled as I am.
Now, onto a somewhat abrupt segue: diversity! As I said before, the poor family is of course meant to represent the struggling of the lower class in South Korea. That alone, starting a conversation on class in a developed country, is a good step for diversity in the sense of economic standing. On top of that, I must say: this was a great movie for feminism, in terms of sheer casting! Each family is comprised of 2 men and 2 women, and there is also a female caretaker who plays a critical role in the film. I can’t say for certain if Parasite passes the famous Bechdel test, but I certainly walked out of the theater recognizing the importance of the female characters, and yes, they make their own decisions, which have drastic consequences to the plot. Again: I seriously don’t want to give away anymore plot details than I already have.
I highly recommend an immediate watch on this movie. A must-see of 2019. Seriously needed, as this year has been a bit lackluster for movies.
Author: Rafael A. Sarmiento, originally published [12/9/2019] for Incluvie