After receiving the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, American audiences have been greatly anticipating Bong Joon-ho’s black comedy thriller Parasite. Joon-ho’s impressive catalogue includes genre heavy hitters such as The Host, Snowpiercer, and Okjaso, so audiences naturally assumed that Parasite would be a science fiction monster movie (Jong-Ho mentioned that people thought it was a sequel to The Host). However, Parasite is actually a deeply grounded, gritty look at the daunting contrast and divide among the classes. With stellar acting, gorgeous set designs, and performances that exquisitely combine humor and tragedy, Parasite is Bong Joon-ho’s crowning achievement and one of the most well-crafted and important stories of the year.
The film focuses on the poverty-stricken Kim family, who are desperately trying to make ends meet. They are a humbled family, with patriarch Ki-teuk going from an Olympic silver medalist to a repeatedly failed businessman who now folds pizza boxes for money. Embarrassed by his family and financial woes, eldest son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) takes over a friend’s position as a personal English tutor for a wealthy family, in spite of not having the proper education or credentials. After fooling the gullible Mrs. Park and charming her teenaged daughter, Da-hye, Ki-woo is immersed in a once-unknown world. He is mesmerized by the lavish home and overwhelming privilege of the Park household and decides he wants that kind of life for himself. One by one, he manages to lie and manipulate his entire family to get them onto the Park family’s staff.
Where Parasite truly shines is in the portrayal of the impeccable chemistry between the entire Kim family. Beneath their foul-mouthed frustration and nihilistic outlooks is a tight-knit unit that would do anything for one another, and who can occasionally find the humor in their misfortune. The standout performance is Park So-dam, playing the snarky young daughter, Ki-jung. Her deadpan delivery as she convinces Mrs. Park that her young son’s mediocre artwork could be a sign that he is a schizophrenic genius is delivered so delightfully subtle that you just might miss it.
The term ‘parasite’ is often a derogatory for a person that sponges off of another, typical financially. It is reasonable to presume that the film is referring to the Kim family as the titular ‘parasites,’ as they con their way into the unassuming and overly trusting Park family’s home. However, Joon-Ho’s brilliant direction and masterful storytelling show that the upper class is just as codependent on the working class. Mr. and Mrs. Park do not drive their own cars, cook their own meals, wash their own dishes, or barely even raise their own children. Their worlds collide in a satirically symbiotic relationship that holds a mirror to a universally recognized divide in a capitalistic society.
At its core, Parasite is about the heart-wrenching experience on being the ‘other.’ The Park family frequently mention the unique scent of their staff members; it is the stench of a day’s labor, the rankness of poor living conditions, and the perspiration caused by a life of anxiety and financial stress — all things they cannot relate to, nor care to empathize with. The Park family home has a large window that takes up an entire wall from which to admire the view and let the sun in; this is a window into the soul of the film, delving into what it is like being on the outside looking in.
With Parasite, Bong Joon-ho has become the first Korean director to take home the prized Palme d’Or with a unanimous vote. It’s a buzzworthy thriller that deserves its accolades as the director elevates his career from admired genre filmmaker to bonafide auteur.