Parasite defies classification. If I were forced to assign a genre or a label on this rollercoaster ride of a film, I would mull over it for a couple of days and still not come up with a solid answer. The only sure thing about it is that it’s an emotional journey unlike any other ever devised. This is yet another product that proves the best material in modern film is not being produced in America, but in other languages and cultures not typically associated with Hollywood. Not only is Parasite entertaining and engrossing to an exponential degree, but it is also jam-packed with subtext and powerful messages–both of which combine to create one of the best films of the past few years.
When the film begins, it comes across as a comedic take on the impoverished sector of Korea. The audience is introduced to a family who is so broke that they cannot afford to operate their phones properly, they must borrow free wi-fi from a local coffee shop, and they con their way into the simplest of jobs in order to make a few extra bucks. The situation doesn’t seem to be improving until the son gets a job with a rich and gullible family that promises money. As they start to trick this family into giving them all work, problems begin to arise that complicate the situation for the protagonists to say the very least.
The genius behind all of this chaos is Joon-ho Bong (Okja, Snowpiercer) who proves yet again that he is a filmmaker with a vision and a message worth paying attention to. The first essential aspect of this ambitious story that he nails is the characters. Even though the main family is in the wrong morally, the audience cheers for them throughout because their mannerisms make them genuine human beings that the average audience member can relate to. However, viewers will also end up simultaneously cheering for the rich family being taken advantage of, for even though their snobbiness is made crystal clear, they are nice people who do not deserve any harm. This creates a moral dilemma that permeates throughout every frame of this film and that won’t leave viewers’ minds long after the film is over.
Once Bong establishes the characters with expertise in the first act, he has the audience in the palm of his hand for the rest of the film. The narrative decisions Bong makes in the second half of Parasite are some of the most daring and unexpected of the past decade, and each twist hits like a freight train because of the impeccable character development. One certain scene in the final act affected me more than any horror or psychological thriller I have seen in some time simply because I was so invested in the characters involved. Because of this, I believe the last hour is the best material film has seen all year. However, scenes like this don’t stop Parasite from being hilarious and dramatically heavy, even though it somehow balances all these tones without making anything feel out of place. Life can be all of these tones without feeling out-of-sorts, and Bong captures the unpredictability of poverty in juxtaposition with the routine of wealth perfectly.
At its core, Parasite is a comment on the class structure generally followed by democracies around the world. It doesn’t point fingers at either the rich or the poor, but it critiques the system that turns them against each other by using symbolism and visual storytelling to hit the point home. For example, the poor depicted in the movie live in a physically lower place than the rich. After a pivotal scene, when the main family regresses back to their poor neighborhood, they are shown descending in the rain back down to their home, following the flow of water downhill until they eventually end up in the sludge. There is another more obvious example depicted late in the movie, in which the way the rich live off the backs of the poor is shown with clarity.
Parasite achieves what Jordan Peele’s Us does, but with far fewer plot holes and tonal inconsistencies. Bong has addressed the class divide before in projects like Snowpiercer, but he outdoes himself in this film, which is saying quite a bit given the already fantastic quality of his previous films. Every aspect of this movie adds to the final message in some pivotal way: the score creates a lighthearted atmosphere in the first twenty minutes and transforms into music from a demonic horror film by the end; the cinematography is a major factor in contrasting the grimy and small poor household with the colorful and lively rich one; the acting from each member of the large ensemble helps the audience empathise with every character, and so much more.
I could go on about every little hidden thing in Parasite that makes it a masterpiece, but in the end people have to go see it for themselves. Even without the subliminal messaging, it has one of the most engrossing plots in recent memory and should be seen by wide audiences for that reason alone. Letting the fact that this film is in Korean prevent one from viewing it will rob them of one of the most memorable experiences at the cinema in a long while. Awards ceremonies would be downright insane to ignore this film in almost any category given how much talent is on display throughout. Bong has created his magnum opus with Parasite, a phenomenal movie that deserves all of the attention that will inevitably come its way.
I give Parasite an A+.