Parasite (aka Gisaengchung) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Bong Joon-ho’s films have a personal yet international appeal in terms of themes addressed. Throughout his work is a clear observation on class struggle, often posed through a sci-fi allegory that often goes soberingly blunt at times. Parasite is his most vicious film for this aspect, tackling class division head-on in a thriller that starts off darkly comedic and turns just plain dark by the end of the picture.
In South Korea, a family of four struggles to make ends meet from their basement apartment. They leech wi-fi to find gigs, take on jobs of making pizza boxes for little money, and rely on the community bug-sprayer for free fumigation, while they’re in the apartment. Desperate for any job they can find, the son gets a bit of luck when a friend recommends him as a tutor for a wealthy family, residing high up in the rich part of town. With the aid of his family, he is able to stage his way into the good graces of this rich yet easily outsmarted family.
The son then recognizes openings, desires that could be fulfilled by the rest of the family. The entire poor family construct an elaborate plan to all acquire jobs within the lavish estate. They pretend not to know each other and fabricate just enough information on their skills to be hired. This ranges from the simple deception of the daughter pretending she’s enough of an art expert to be hired for tutoring the young boy of the rich household to finding a way to fire the current house maid for the poor mother to move in.
For the first half of the film, it’s a well-tuned dark comedy of a poor family deceiving a rich family. Their plan is so complex and rehearsed that it’s an immaculate play of trying to make a living that is pleasing for the assembly and morally questionable considering their attack against the maid is to fake her having TB. The poor family becomes so good at their gig that it seems as though they’re headed down a path to being the antagonists of this picture, especially for a heated moment they all have together when it seems their lives are all figured out. But then there’s that twist lurking in the rich home’s basement that drastically shifts the picture into a much more sinister and earth-shaking film that is absolutely frightening and shocking.
Bong’s style is in top form with this picture in how he stages the entire picture. There’s the obvious symbolism in the way the rich and poor families are housed, the destitute underground and the well-to-do residing high. But there’s something compelling in nearly every frame. Take a look at every shot within the rich family’s home. Every shot seems to have something dividing the rich and poor, be it a wall, a pillar, or a line in the paths. One of the most memorable shots features the maid addressing the matriarch of the house, seen through a window with a separating pane. The maid claps her hands across the divide, waking up the sleeping mother. It’s a subtle yet effective and iconic take on the crossing of lines that will come to violent blows in the more explosive third-act climax.
Bong stated in an interview that he intended Parasite to be more of a Korean specific film unlike his previous pictures of Snowpiercer and Okja. He want to highlight the horrific divide of class and the crashing problems in capitalism that breeds this discontent. He was a bit surprised to discover this was just as big a problem in America as it was in Korea, generating an international appeal that most likely led to Bong selling the rights for an American remake. Whether the remake will be too watered down is anybody’s guess, but as it stands, Parasite is such a perfect picture for tackling the current concerns of eating the rich in a beautifully staged and deeply uncomfortable film, more than worthy of becoming the first South Korean film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.