To dive into Parasite on a plot level would ruin part of the surprise and fun of this movie.
The tonal shifts and plot revelations are so good that had Parasite been made under a North American studio, it would have almost certainly been apart of the marketing hook.
I almost wouldn’t be able to blame them either.
I don’t subscribe to the belief that spoilers will ruin the movie for someone because if shocking plot turns is part of a story has then it doesn’t have much going for it anyway.
Still, I think it would too absolutist of us to say spoiling a plot has no effect on your viewing experience. It does, so…
This admittedly long-winded digression into the ongoing discourse of spoiling movies is to accomplish two things.
- Solely explain that I’m going to be purposely sidestepping major plot points
- Act as a back-door segway into feelings about how deftly the plot is constructed.
Going into the theater not knowing much about this movie will treat you to the same uncertain POV of the main family for which our narrative is centered around.
The anonymity of storyline and plot treats the audience to the same emotions and thrills as the family starring in the film. Essentially, we have a poor family living in South Korea scamming their way into working for an upper-class family. That’s it. That’s the setup. And from there, everything goes into directions that you can’t possibly imagine…
This provides one of the great strengths of the movie, which is the genre blend that Bong Joon-ho manages to achieve. Parasite will broadly be categorized as a thriller, but it is also a dark–almost comedic–human drama that ventures into horror territory. Tonal shifts can be jarring but Joon-ho makes it look easy expertly moving as the downward spiral of the plot commences.
Political Theme and Identity
As unpredictable as this is as a thriller and mystery, this movie’s thematic identity is even more interesting. This is the part of the review where some people will tell you not to talk about politics, but there is simply no way you can talk about this movie with any justice except but also exploring the film’s politics.
Bong Joon-ho crafts a movie that is a thinly veiled metaphor for class warfare and all the complexities that come with that. Joon-ho is able to do this not just in a literal sense of having a poor family work for a rich one, but he is also able to explore the struggles of inter-class warfare and the resulting attitudes of living as a bootlicker, worship of the rich, and the lengths that capitalism will force a family to go to achieve material wealth and how avarice can be their undoing.
There is a lot going on in this movie from a political standpoint and Joon-ho finds simple ways to illustrate his point.
The way he is able to relate and tie-in just the simple phenomenon of rainfall exemplifies the idea of class privilege and the ignorance therein. The movie is an assault on the very institutions and wealth gaps that capitalism will create (and I was here for all of it).
You can enjoy this movie as a first-rate thriller, but to ignore the politics of the movie is ignoring the very foundations on which this story is based. Perhaps that’s why this movie is resonating so much worldwide. Joon-ho didn’t think this would appeal elsewhere other than South Korea but with so many living under the foot of capitalism, it’s hard to not find appeal in it.
A Daring Cast
This is nothing simple to say of the wonderful performances from the cast.
Each member of this dynamic cast play their parts wonderfully, many of them demanding a far greater range than most roles require. Even the characters at their most satirical still find a way to be so damn engaging and grounded even when they veer into over the top territory (of which is tempered by Joon-ho’s careful direction).
I want to list the entire cast as standouts because they are all truly great but my personal performances came from Kang-ho Song and So-dam Park.
All of which is further compounded by the film’s camera.
Shot by Kyung-pyo Hong (whose credits include Joon-ho’s previous film Snowpiercer and Burning), the film isn’t just gorgeous. Furthermore, the framing isn’t there because it will look nice on a screenshot.
Hong and Joon-ho guide there their cameras to force the audience to see what the characters see. From the sleek and careful framing in the first third of the family’s time in the rich’s home to the speed and virtuosity that pushes you forward into confrontations of violence. Their camera work is able to balance from a subjective and objective lens to tell this crazy and wild story.
When the pair shoot violence, the chaotic and unforgiving force is felt. There is no glamor to the violence in Joon-ho’s Parasite and the moments of bledshed are done sparingly but with purpose and care.
Go See This Movie
Parasite is one of the finest features I’ve seen this year. I don’t write this with any doubt or fear of changing my mind. I was frequently surprised, shock, enthralled and challenged. I admittedly haven’t seen any of Bong Joon-ho’s other films, so I can’t speak to how this plays against his accomplished filmography (although I know I will be seeing the rest of his movies now).
Nonetheless, I can say the experience I had left me catching my breath and thinking about its messaging long after it was done. Parasite is entertaining but also thoughtful. Foreign cinema has this strange reputation in the United States among casual moviegoers for being slow and plodding–when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Rest assured, this is a movie that is as entertaining as the best blockbusters and as well constructed as the so-called “prestige pictures.” You won’t want to miss it.