Following the unemployed Kim family in their systematic entanglement with the wealthy Park family comes “Parasite”, a film that defies the construct of genre and explores class inequities.
The Kim’s get wrapped up with the Park family when Ki-woo, played by Woo-sik Choi, is recruited by a college friend to take his position as an english tutor for the Park family’s daughter, Da-hye played by Ji-so Jung, while he is away studying abroad. Coupled with the gifting of a culturally appreciated stone formation called gongshi or a scholar’s rock, which in this instance is meant to bring material wealth to the family, their journey with the Park household begins.
The film is dark, twisted, and absolutely hilarious. Director Bong Joon-ho, known for Netflix film “Okja,” Chris Evans led comic adaptation “Snowpiercer,” and popular horror film “The Host,” has a talent for blending genre and narrative to better deliver his artistic vision. That talent is on display with this film as it’s hard to discern what “Parasite” is: a comedy, a thriller, a political think-piece? “Parasite” is all of the above, a meticulously layered effort that delivers on all levels.
As weird as it is, this film is one of the strongest comedies of the year. The whole cast has exceptional comedic delivery; the Kim family has fantastic chemistry, working together to infiltrate this wealthy family and become their whole household staff. Kim family daughter Ki-jung, played by So-dam Park, is particularly strong; her presence is undeniable and her staff alter ego Jessica is a scene-stealer. From the Park family the especially gullible mother Yeon-kyo, played brilliantly by Yeo-jeong Jo, is the standout. The humor is dry and often understated, making its presence in a dark film like this all the more funny.
The film is genuinely suspenseful; from the first steps Ki-woo takes into the Park household, there is a looming sense of something dark lurking around the corner. The father of the Kim family Ki-taek, played by Kang-ho Song who previously worked with the director on “Snowpiercer” and “The Host,” offers the most psychologically nuanced performance. In many ways his character is the strongest symbolic representation of the lower class in this film, illustrating the divide of class. The Park family express between themselves the foul odor of Ki-tack, and personally internalizing much of his annoyance with the wealthy family throughout the film.
The Kims live in a sub-basement apartment and struggle with basic necessities while the Parks live in a gorgeous house previously owned by a famous architect. As pointed out in John Horn’s interview with the director on The Frame, there is a verticality to the class representation here from below to above. In Joon-ho’s previous film, Snowpiercer, wealth and class are divided horizontally from the back of a train to the front. The Kim family is quite literally in terms of topography, below the Parks. Also the idea of plans being intrinsically linked with success is a major throughline of the film. Whether it’s going to college and securing a job or the next step of the Kims infiltration plan, this idea becomes more prominent throughout. Joon-ho’s thematic elements manifest symbolically in the film and are powerfully bolstered by the visuals.
The film is visually stunning, becoming an altogether different visual experience when the narrative changes in the final act. A flood sequence stands out as visually arresting when the Kims return to the ruinous state of their “lower” life, descending a large staircase to their apartment filled with sewage water, then spending the night in a gym with others that have no place to go. The dank glow of their flooding apartment marks and strong contrast to the care-free clean luminescence of the Park household comfortably enjoying the rain.
The first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, “Parasite” beautifully falls on the 100 year anniversary of Korean cinema. The film is a hilarious psychological thriller that spotlights class disparity, seamlessly blending genre for an unforgettable and indiscernible experience, thriving in its ambiguity rather than succumbing to it.