THE STORY – Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.
THE CAST – Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik & Park So-dam
THE TEAM – Bong Joon-ho (Director/Writer) & Han Jin-won (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 132 Minutes
By Tom O’Brien
Bong Joon-Ho is a one-of-a-kind filmmaker. There’s not that many still left. Quentin Tarantino is one, and Robert Altman was another. They’re filmmakers whose style is so distinct, so identifiable, that any of their films could not have been made by any other filmmaker. Like Tarantino, Bong loves genre films, whether it’s a police procedural (2003’s “Memories of Murder”), monster movies (2006’s “The Host”) or dystopian futurism (2013’s “Snowpiercer”). And his latest film, “Parasite,” is the latest addition to this proud lineage. In fact, “Parasite” is arguably his best film yet. In May, it beat a number of high profile films (including Tarantino’s own “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood“) to win the highest honor, the Palme d’Or, at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
One of Bong’s distinguishing hallmarks is mixing inherently dramatic material with a layer of dark comedy, which few filmmakers would dare to do, but Bong does it again skillfully here. In fact, the opening few scenes feel very much like last year’s Palme d’Or winner, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters,” which focused on a lower-class family that stole in order to make a living. In “Parasite,” this family — patriarch Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mom Choong Sook (Jang Hye-jin), son Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-Shik) and daughter Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam) — live hand-to-mouth in a semi-basement apartment. Dad and the kids spend their days trying to sponge wi-fi from their neighbors, while Choong Sook brings in the family’s only income by assembling boxes for a take-out pizza joint.
Opportunity knocks when Kim Ki-Woo’s friend Min (Park Seo-joon), who has been tutoring the daughter of a rich family, tells him that he’s planning to study abroad and asks if Kim might want to take over the job. Armed with a phony college degree created by his sister, Kim interviews with Mrs. Park (Jo Yeo-jeong) and gets the position. At one point, he notices a painting by the family’s son and raves about it to Mrs. Park, suggesting that her talented son really needs an art tutor, and Mrs. Park agrees. Enter his sister as the world’s greatest art tutor. Now all they need to do is find a job for Mom as a housekeeper and Dad as a chauffeur. Once that’s accomplished and they are all working for the Park family, it would seem that Kim’s family is solidly on Easy Street. But nothing is ever that easy. It is here where “Parasite” turns from being an incisive comedy of class differences and instead sets a tone that’s much closer to Jordan Peele’s “Us.”
Yet even as the film’s tone changes, Bong’s interest in social commentary doesn’t, which helps to give “Parasite” the kind of heft that is necessary for the film to maneuver through awards season. A nomination for Best International Film would seem logical (if South Korea submits the film as its representative), but the originality of Bong’s premise and execution could garner notice within the wonderfully contrarian writer’s branch, and Bong’s gorgeous imagery may come to the attention of the director’s branch as well. If Bong lands nominations in those categories, Best Picture would be the next logical step. And I’m not just saying this after the performance of “Roma” and “Cold War” last year. “Parasite” is that good.
Even if “Parasite” does not become a major Oscar player, moviegoers will have an enormous treat waiting for them at their local cinema. Part of the fun is going into Bong’s masterpiece and not knowing much of what happens which is why this review is light on explanation. All you need to know is that this is a filmmaker working at the top of his game, with a cast who know their characters inside and out, aided by brilliant satirical writing that feels as culturally relevant as it is emotionally resonant, with enough twists and turns to keep you engaged, entertained and stunned throughout. It is a flawless knockout in every sense of the word.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Bong Joon-Ho’s Palme d’Or-winning film lives up to its heralded reputation with its first half being a blisteringly funny social class comedy, while its skilled back half turns all of those laughs disturbingly on their heads and in our faces.