Parasite is a superbly produced and blackly comic social commentary thriller.
It is best to see Parasite blind. Not necessarily because the film contains big twists or shocking revelations, but because the film unfolds in a variety of genuinely unpredictable ways. The South Korean film finds the impoverished Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) hired as a tutor for the upper-class Park family. As Ki-woo infiltrates the luxurious household, things quickly escalate.
Parasite marks a return to South Korea for director Bong Joon-ho. Bong is one of the most popular and influential South Korean film directors of the past few decades, making an international impression with both Memories of a Murder and The Host. However, recent years have seen Bong garner a strong overseas following, producing English-language films Snowpiercer and Okja.
Bong’s success is an illustration of how the world of film and media has grown much more interconnected over the past decade. Bong wrestled with Harvey Weinstein over the production of apocalyptic science fiction film Snowpiercer, but it garnered a strong enough following for Netflix to allow the director complete artistic freedom on his CGI-heavy vegetarian parable Okja.
However, after these two starry hits, the director chose to return to his home country to make a much smaller sort of film. It is scaled down compared to his previous two productions, to the point that he had originally envisaged Parasite as a stage play. Parasite is a much more intimate film than Snowpiercer or Okja, the bulk of the story unfolding in the confines of the Kim and Park households.
There is almost something “back to basics” about Parasite. It is a lean and efficient piece of filmmaking, one that relies on the care and attention given to even the smallest details. Bong has incredible control of his audience and his narrative, allowing the film to constantly twist and turn in ways that manage to be both completely unpredictable and entirely satisfying.
Parasite is admittedly a pointed film with very strong themes, belonging among the year’s other genre meditations on economic inequality and class divides like Joker, Knives Out, and Hustlers. However, Parasite also works as a nuts-and-bolts piece of filmmaking. Bong’s mastery of tone is remarkable, pivoting from sly dark humor into Hitchcockian suspense with incredible ease.
Just in terms of production, Parasite is a polished piece of work. Jung Jae-il’s score is suitably atmospheric. Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography makes excellent use of the lighting within the sets, allowing it to reflect and glimmer off the glass incorporated within the film’s design to create a palpable anxiety. Editor Yang Jin-mo tightens the film like a snare drum.
The most impressive aspect of Parasite is the way in which it manages to feel both anchored in the specific context of South Korea and universal in its messaging. The film resonates well beyond its particular setting. Bong’s foray with international studios has helped to build the director some international cachet, which has in turn helped to raise the profile of a much smaller and more local film.
After all, Parasite is the rare true breakout international film. It earned both a Best Picture and a Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards. It broke records at the specialty box office in the United States. Bong Joon-ho himself appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to promote the film, illustrating just how much reach – and just how populist – a film like this is.
Parasite earns that breakout appeal. Bong talked about the “one-inch barrier” of subtitles in his Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe acceptance speech for the film, as subtitles are often a hurdle to international films trying to find an American audience. This may be unfair, but perhaps also true. That Parasite has connected with audiences across that divide is a testament to its strength. In fact, there are already reports of a looming television adaptation.
Parasite is a truly infectious class act.
Parasite is now streaming online via video-on-demand services and is available to stream and watch via Movies Anywhere and associated providers.