Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder, The Host, Snowpiercer, Okja) is South Korea’s master of genre remixing, and this uproariously acidic black comedy/mystery/thriller/social satire is, perhaps – no, definitely – his masterpiece. Parasite gives us a tumbling domino rally of narrative surprises, sure to elicit gasps and howls from audiences, but beneath those rich surface pleasures there’s a meaningfully savage indictment of class capitalism.
The Kim family are low-level grafters, subsiding on the bottom rung of Korean society (literally living in a basement) and putting endless energy into socially peripheral, transient schemes to scrape together cash. Then their son chances upon a tutoring job with the rich, bourgeois Park family, in their impeccably tasteful international-modernist style home, high on a hill overlooking Seoul. The rest of the Kims start exploring ways to milk the Parks for cash – and so begins a chain reaction that will escalate beyond anyone’s predictions…
Bong manages to deliver several jaw-dropping moments, but also more subtle grace-notes; witness the ways people laugh divertingly when asked if they love their partners. Script, direction, performance, sets, costumes, blocking – everything is honed to perfection. This film is a miracle of craft; to land with its audience it needs to proceed Iike clockwork while never losing its heart, and that’s exactly where Bong succeeds.
Parasite reveals itself gradually, transforming as it goes until it powers into its crescendo, landing all it’s emotional and narrative punches. (Hey, if Bong can remix his genres, I can mix my metaphors.)
Bong Joon-ho has said before that all his films are, in some regard, monster movies, and while we absolutely cannot reveal the ending it’s not giving away anything to ask what the real monster is here. The duplicitousness of the Kims? The self-centred carelessness of the Parks? Or, beneath it all, class and inequality themselves. The physical metaphors that support this class theme (including but not limited to the juxtaposition of the Kims’ basement and the Parks’ hilltop) are just as pointed as in Bong’s Snowpiercer, but are carried off here with more grace and elan – just one example of Bong’s continued growth as a filmmaker.
This really is the film we need in 2019, and surely – surely! – deserves to take home the best international Oscar in 2020.
What am I saying? It would deserve the Best Film Oscar, full stop.
Without question, one of the films of the decade.