Director: Joon Ho Bong | Runtime: 2h 12mins | Comedy, Thriller | Language: Korean
An unemployed family manages to find work by scheming their way into a rich families life. Everything goes according to plan until the old housemaid returns one evening to retrieve something she had forgotten.
Although Joon Ho Bong has a catalogue reminiscent of a genre director, this title has never been appropriate for a director of such talent and depth. The Host (2006), while a creature feature on the surface, is rich with family values and a commentary on societal panic, and his Hollywood debut Snowpiercer (2013) really has much more thematic lacing than your average Sci-Fi. The same can definitely be said for his most recent venture Parasite, which made history earlier this year by becoming the first South Korean film to win the coveted Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
The film is painted as a jet-black comedy that incorporates the plot of a home invasion (albeit a very gradual one), but what’s lying underneath and eventually reaches the surface is perfectly constructed commentary on class and the lines that divide them. The film’s initial ‘parasites’ are the Kim family, who we first see scanning their own apartment for nearby WiFi, and if it wasn’t clear enough of who they are to the film, we see them get literally fogged by exterminators in the first ten minutes. It isn’t until the son Ki gets handed an opportunity at teaching english, that we begin to see the true resiliency of the family.
What follows is a drawn process of scheming and manipulating that eventually sees the entire family infesting the lives of a much wealthier and comfortable family. In this part the comedy is in full flow, as Bong is very quick to show us just how funny he can be with his writing, but most of the plaudits have to go to Yeo-jeong Jo who’s performance as the Lady of the house is a standout. The first impression you get is of a very basic rich wife archetype, but thanks to impeccable comedic timing and a genuine sense of naivety, Jo brings so much more out of this performance including the bulk of the films laughs. Even as just a representative of the Comedy genre, Bong is in full control, but the performances from his entire cast really manage to capture the black-hearted approach to the films jokes with perfection.
While this is a genre film, what makes Bong such an articulate director is his ability to shape his film into something so much more than the genre it’s representing. For the majority of the film, as charismatic as the Kim family seem to be, what they are doing is that of an antagonist. Encroaching on a harmless family and taking them for as much as they can get their hands on. But as the film progresses the lines begin to blur between who is good and who is bad, with the Kim family’s actions becoming more and more tolerable and even justifiable, as their scheming turns to resourceful determination.
It’s this kind of writing and directing that not only blurs the lines between good and bad but begins a thought-provoking process of who the real ‘parasites’ are, the unemployed family that will do anything to provide a happier life for themselves or the seemingly harmless Park family, who are quick to show their true colours, and in turn alienate the people they deem below them. This is the film’s great achievement, as the ‘commentary’ quickly becomes an active part of the film’s violent climax. As people begin to get hurt your thought process will be jarred to it’s core, not knowing who deserves it and who doesn’t. There aren’t many films that subvert their own message so proudly, and Bong does it all while keeping within the confines of his chosen genre.
This film may seem simple upon first glance, but what makes this so brilliant is Bong’s approach to telling the story, but also keeping the craftsmanship that’s made him so achieved. The film glides effortlessly from comedy, to scenes with such dramatic weight and then to action all without any second thought, never allowing itself to buckle under the pressure of quick momentum change but rather embrace it. All of these genius manoeuvres are subtle in their approach but clear in their appearance, and if you add it’s genuine humour as well, Parasite has become one of the directors best, and probably one of the best films you’ll see this year.