After making an international splash with the creature feature The Host, the dystopian sci-fi of Snowpiercer, and the fantasy/adventure food industry takedown in Okja, Bong Joon-ho’s newest feature begins with perhaps one of his most relatable scenes: A young boy and his sisters scramble throughout the house in a panic after a neighbor finally makes his Wi-Fi password-protected. Ki-woo Kim (Choi Woo-sik) runs like a madman yearning for the sweet relief of internet connection, while his mother, Chung-sook (Hyae Jin Chang), keeps asking him to check WhatsApp. He finally finds a neighbor without a password, and quickly tells his sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam) to stand very still on top of the toilet to connect to the internet while his father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), gets excited at the prospect of getting free fumigation when he sees some exterminators spraying the street above their semi-underground apartment.
Parasite isn’t strictly a thriller, but it is suffused in suspense. It isn’t really a comedy, though it will make you laugh frequently with its satirical look at society. And it isn’t exactly a horror movie, but it presents a new twist on the home invasion subgenre. Parasite combines a variety of influences to evolve into something more sinister than what first meets the eye, mixing these genres in order to have you clinging to the edge of your seat to avoid jumping out in fear, anger, or joy throughout its runtime.
We follow the Kim family as they all manage to scheme their way into employment with the affluent Park family after Ki-woo forges some documents and starts systematically getting rid of the Parks’ other employees. The result is a symbiotic yet fragile relationship where both families depend on each other, but greed and class prejudice threaten to destroy them both. Parasite asks us who the real parasites are, if each family is exploiting the other. “Can success be found without ruining others?” is the question at the center of the film, making this a sort of companion piece to Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer in its exploration of class and socioeconomic struggles.
The story is sharply edited and presented with smooth camera movements that aid in telling this increasingly tragic story. Then the whole thing is wrapped up with Jung Jae-il’s loud and symphonic score makes even the smallest scene feel grand, turning every single detail is the biggest of revelations.
Parasite plays with the audience’s expectations, in part using the actors’ performances. If you’ve seen the trailer, you might go in expecting clear villains–we’re obviously meant to support the lower-class underdog family and cheer on their quest for financial stability, while at the same time resenting the rich family that has so much they don’t know what to do with it all. But as the story progresses and we get to know the characters a bit more, Ki-woo and Ki-jung’s utter disdain for the Parks and their revelry in various fraudulent and criminal acts will invite you to question whether they’re fully in the right. The Parks may be filthy rich, but they are so nice it would seem like their greatest sin is simply being naive. The dad works most of the day, but he seems to really care about his kids and cherishes their time together, and the mom does everything she can to make sure the Kims feel at home with them.
Who exactly is in the wrong? What is the greater transgression? Parasite isn’t interested in pointing a finger at anyone and spelling out its message, but by having the actors hold back and reveal their true personalities little by little, it presents us with enough perspectives that the audience can see their own beliefs reflected and their biases confronted.
Though inherently a Korean film, Parasite’s commentary on class division and the price of success is universal. Joon-ho is interested in exploring the resentment people in the lower class have for the rich, but also the feeling of inferiority that forces you to be grateful for whatever scraps you can get. Though not a genre movie on the surface, Parasite takes us on a thrilling journey that ends up with a devastating and bloody stand-off that will have your blood pumping with full force. Its pitch-perfect casting, excellent cinematography, and operatic score all result in a tragedy of epic proportions that should scheme, con, and scam its way into many “best of” lists by the end of the year.