Parasite (Bong Joon Ho, 2019, South Korea)

Parasite is a film that lives up to the hype. Bong Joon Ho's latest feels like the work of a true master. Even at over two hours, the film feels lean and tight, with a pace that most directors strive for their entire career. Joon Ho also straddles genres here with aplomb. The film is perhaps most easily described as a drama, but it could also be easily characterized as a thriller, and even a dark comedy. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the film. There are moments of truly sustained tension, as well as raw brutality.

The plot, involving a poor family - the Kims - that gradually weave themselves through various cons into the life of the wealthy Park family, is on its surface quite simple. Joon Ho's script however is at once universal but also deeply Korean. Don't expect an American remake any time soon. The hypermaterialism and class stratification of modern Korea provides the thematic context of Parasite, much in the same way it provided the context of Lee Chang-dong's masterful Burning.

While it is clear from the get-go that the Kims' con will eventually catch up with them, how and when it does is a question that left me in almost unbearable tension. Joon Ho also plays with our sympathies throughout the film. While it is clear the Kims are doing something wrong, at many points in the film we find ourselves rooting for them to succeed. Likewise, while the Parks are ostensibly innocent, their gullibility and general dysfunction in the face of the conniving and talented Kims makes them rather unsympathetic innocents. In a lesser director's hands, a "rich are bad, poor are good" narrative might have emerged. But this is not the case in Parasite. It is a nuanced, incredibly acted, and moving film.



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