Bong Joon-ho delivers a biting satirical thriller about class warfare and social inequality
By Prahlad Srihari
Bong Joon-ho has always been interested in the mechanics of genre cinema. The South Korean director has made a career of subverting established genres in an intelligent, meaningful manner. In The Host and Okja, he took the creature feature and added socio-political subtext to it. The serial killer thriller, Memories of Murder, highlighted police incompetence in South Korea and the Hitchcockian murder mystery, Mother, revealed the cultural divide between men and women in Korean society.
Fortunes change when Ki-woo falsifies his credentials to land a tutoring job with a wealthy couple, Mr Park (Lee Sun-kyun) and his gullible wife Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong). While he teaches their daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso), he learns that their troublesome son Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun) also needs help improving his drawing skills. Ever the opportunist, he recommends his sister — not revealing her real identity of course. She recommends her father as a driver after getting the previous one fired by setting him up as a sex fiend. Ki-taek then recommends his wife to take over as housekeeper after a scheme involving the most creative use of peaches since Call Me By Your Name. After their clandestine infiltration operation into the Parks’ lives is complete, the story makes so many intense and unexpected twists and turns, it turns into a whole different beast altogether.
The cast of Parasite deliver performances of exceptional psychological acuity and perverse frivolity. Led by Bong’s frequent collaborator Song Kang-ho, they are sure to conjure the loudest of laughs and the strongest of emotional reactions from their audiences.
Bong brilliantly uses the upstairs-downstairs distinction in the Parks’ house to reveal a socially divided society. And the society is not just divided by wealth but also culture. Bong revisits a familiar theme of the proliferation of American values over traditional Korean ones. The Parks are a Westernised family who live in a sleek, modernist home with white picket fences — and who buy toys and gadgets from the US, exemplifing the upper crust. Ki-taek’s family, meanwhile, lives in a sordid apartment in the basement, where cockroaches thrive and drunkards urinate on their windows. So, with Parasite, Bong tries to bring to light this deep, festering malady at the heart of Korean society.
Parasite offers a cleverly paced, thoroughly entertaining blend of sumptuous visuals and wickedly dark humour. The music too makes the plot twists and revelations hit that much harder.
Despite the cultural and language barriers, Parasite is an unforgettable cinematic experience as it speaks to universal ideas, themes and emotions. If Bong Joon-ho’s style of genre filmmaking hasn’t become an adjective already, it sure is time now.
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