When you’re seeking original ideas you only have to look to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho who has a made a career out of innovation and crafts cinema that takes his audience for a ride. His latest work, Parasite, is an out and out cinematic masterpiece, and presents a sordid tale of drama, comedy and twisted thrills that is sure to creep under your skin.
All unemployed, Ki-taek and his family take a peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks, as they ingratiate themselves into their lives and get entangled in an unexpected incident.
Bong Joon-ho is a wild card maverick who swings for the fences with each new project and he always hits it out of the park. But Parasite is something else entirely and the full experience of this masterly crafted film is something that needs to be witnessed on the biggest screen possible. While I’ll try to stay away from the narrative details, Parasite is a film that gets under the audience’s skin thanks to a mix of genres including drama, comedy, thriller and horror, and Bong’s originality must be praised. His understanding and commentary on South Korean society cuts right to the bone, and his injection of a good dose of genre cinema heightens the tension and has you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
All aspects of the filmmaking process come together here in Parasite. Direction, screenplay, set design, cinematography, lighting, sound design, costuming, musical score and above all else theatrical talent. Each of the actors gives their all to this project and as a collective group, they elevate it to the masterwork that it is. Working in unison together you completely buy into both the Kim’s and the Park’s interactions and the performances here have you gripped hook, line and sinker.
While I believe praise should be levelled on the entire cast collectively, two performers who should be signalled out are Song Kang-ho as Kim Ki-taek and Park So-dam as Kim Ki-jeong. Song brings a realness to this out and out loser who is clearly at the bottom of the barrel and is suffering for it. And while he tries to desperately ingratiate himself with the Parks, he keeps coming up short, and Song’s performance is wrapped in a seething resentment that is particularly detailed. Park, on the other hand, is terrific as Kim Ki-jeong, the Machiavellian force of the Kim family, and her dominance in the role really brands her out here, especially when she starts showing off with her newfound power within the Park household.
In terms of its cinematic experience, there is only one word that can be applied to describe Parasite and that is original. This film is a unique presentation in every single regard, from both its gripping narrative to how it is captured through the filmmaking process and it’s an experience that stays with you. This comes from Bong’s strict attention to detail and a focus on craft, and all of it forms into a perfect structure of cinematic expression.
It’s better to say as little as possible about Parasite to preserve the viewing experience, I will say that throughout watching this film you find yourself saying “what the hell was that.” This film’s shocking originality, and I’m not using that term lightly here, sweeps you off your feet, and you find the rug pulled out from under you in a series of multiple incidents. Parasite keeps you on your toes with its narrative will have your heart racing.
The film’s masterpiece status is not just attached to both its narrative and casting, but also to its incredible production and the aesthetic that it builds. Production design, costuming, cinematography and musical score all play an integral part in the experience of Parasite and with each department feeding into the other. Through both the film’s impressive use of architecture and costuming, Bong exhibits the rift that exists between both the Kim’s and the Park’s, and the different worlds in which they exist. While the Kim’s live in a hovel, claustrophobic type world that renders them barely human, the Park’s exist in an open and grand palatial like space that elevates both their status and egos.
Cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo’s lens plays a key part in capturing this with tones that feel almost morgue-like when we first meet the Kims, to a sweeping use of warm colours to exhibit a heightened level of success, before falling into a sickly palette of severe greens and blues that fill you with dread. Jung Jae-il’s score must also be paid close attention to as well, as this one certainly makes you uneasy thanks to its bile-like cords.
Bong’s attention to Parasite means that its a film that operates on every level and there are some incredible themes at play. The most obvious is its investigation of class interaction and the confrontation of the haves and the have-nots. And Bong focuses a particularly smart and brutal lens on this. In Parasite his audience is taken to the absolute below-base level of the Kim’s, and the particularly horrible, putrid existence that they live, and this is contrasted by the care-free super opulence of the Parks. It’s a place where jealousies, rage and a brutal illusion of stress all build-up, and you’re just waiting for it all to explode. Both the satirical and the more human-approach to social criticism are at play here in Parasite, and Bong really takes you into the emotions of what it means to exist in these two parallels.
Alongside his deep analysis of class interaction, and the massive rift between rich and poor, Bong also brings attention to ideas of ambition, family loyalty, along with playing out the very nature of a ‘parasite’ at work. There’s incredible juxtaposition going on, with one family so full of ambition and clawing to climb the ladder, while the others are content with their status and oblivious to anything else around them, save their own egotistical needs. While it could be said that the Kim’s are the parasitic force of Parasite, the more you watch this film you see that the Park’s as the hosts are the worse of the two groups and this is related to how they leech off of their servants. This of course leads to a bubbling malice that boils beneath their exuberant home. Bong’s Parasite is a giant melting pot of ideas and there’s plenty to keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat.
Summed up in full, Parasite is a masterpiece. It’s utterly brilliant in every part of its construction and as an audience member, it utterly spins you for a loop and pulls the rug right out from under you. Cinema brilliance doesn’t get much better than this and if you do get the chance to witness it up on the silver screen it’s a film you should take the time to see. You will not be disappointed with this one.
Image: MadMan Films