by Jack Miller ‘21
Acclaimed South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s newest film, “Parasite,” is his best yet– a socially conscious genre-transcending masterwork that is funny, thrilling, moving, thought-provoking, and superbly crafted.
The film follows an impoverished family of four that spends their time working low-paying gigs and moping around in the dinginess of their basement-level Seoul apartment. The four eccentric protagonists: Kim Ki-taek, the stoic patriarch of the family; his wife Chung-soon; their twenty-something daughter Ki-jeong; and their college-age son, Ki-woo, are all lovable despite their deceptive and morally questionable actions. The plot’s catalyst comes when a job as an English tutor for the daughter of the affluent Park family lands in the underqualified Ki-woo’s hands. After earning the trust of the Parks by posing as an American scholar, Ki-woo and his sister begin devising an elaborate scheme to manipulate their way to wealth, sending “Parasite” and its lead characters on a wildly unpredictable journey that explores the nature of wealth inequality and economic class issues along the way.
One of the most impressive aspects of “Parasite” is its seamless balance of different tones and genres. Functioning largely as a black comedy for its first act, a gripping edge-of-your-seat thriller in its second, and a poignant drama in its third, “Parasite” excels regardless of the genre it pursues. Whereas other films that tackle such drastic shifts in tone may come off as inconsistent and messy, “Parasite’s” mix of different genres feels effortless. Although the genre changes frequently, the film’s main idea remains intact throughout. Amidst all of the unbearable suspense and the laugh-out-loud humor, there is a pervasive undertone of sadness, made all the more upsetting due to the relevance and truth behind the film’s social commentary.
Those familiar with the auteur’s previous works, such as “Memories of Murder” and “The Host,” can expect to find the same delightful idiosyncrasies, the exhilirating thrills, and the touching sentiments of those films, but there’s something about “Parasite’s” masterfully constructed atmosphere that is completely unlike any of the director’s other movies, and completely unlike any other movie this decade. What makes “Parasite” stand out is the unadulterated ferocity with which Joon-ho delivers his message. Taking harsh jabs at wealth inequality and class struggles throughout, Joon-ho has never been more furious about an issue, more confident in his style, and more meticulous in his craft.
With “Parasite,” Joon-ho takes the best elements of his previous films and fine-tunes them to perfection. Hong Kyung Po’s frenetic and gorgeously composed cinematography flawlessly conveys the film’s different tones as the genre shifts. The camera glides through the elaborate sets with beautiful precision. Jung Jae Il’s score elevates many of the film’s most powerful scenes to even higher levels of grandeur.
“Parasite” is both a necessary look at the economic divide and a powerful showcase of cinematic bravura. It is Bong Joon-ho’s best, most important film to date, the crowning achievement in a sea full of gems. It took home the top prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and is expected to perform similarly at the Oscars in February. It comes to U.S. theaters on October 11th, so make sure to check it out if you get a chance. Just be ready to laugh. And cheer. And cry.