“To have and have not” – is the question posed in Bong Joon-ho’s latest nail-biter, “Parasite.” Class relations and the allure of wealth are what preoccupy the characters and propel the action forward. It’s a story that resonates as much in the United States as in the director’s native country, South Korea and the conclusion presents a dark parable of the violence lying beneath the surface of the entire feature. Overall, the tight script and socially conscious material makes this one of the most engaging films of the year and a great entry point into the director’s striking oeuvre.
“Parasite” follows the downtrodden Kim family as they struggle to make ends meet. Recent economic developments forced the family to struggle for every penny. A change of fortune comes when the brother’s friend informs him of a tutoring job for the wealthy Park family. Through working with the Park daughter, the brother learns that they also need an arts mentor for their young son. The brother recommends his sister but leads the Park family into believing that she is just a family friend and not his sibling. From here, the family begins a scheme where they can all work for the Park household under aliases, using knowledge from their former vocations. As they become more secure in their positions, they begin to take more liberties with the family home, until a shocking discovery sends both families down a dark spiral.
The script, which was also co-written by Bong Joon-ho, is air tight with nail-biting suspense. The nuanced social critique manages to highlight issues of wealth disparity without vilifying either side. We see how the rich Parks often mean well, but their pretensions and lack of understanding get the better of them. Meanwhile the Kims are bonded through their collective hardship, yearning so much for a better life that they often neglect the wellbeing of others. All this culminates in a penultimate sequence that is both heartbreaking and terrifying. Such dichotomous material is not foreign territory for anyone who has followed this filmmaker through the years.
This brings me to the final great aspect of “Parasite,” its position as a gateway to the director’s other work. The film has already seen great success in the U.S., especially for a subtitled art house feature. This is partly due to the world-class filmmaking, but also to the somewhat accessible material. It is my hope that this exposure will encourage deeper dives into his oeuvre. Film’s such as “The Host,” “Okja,” “Snowpiercer,” and possibly his masterpiece, “Memories of Murder,” offer intriguing dives into the complicated nature of humanity and deserve further attention.
“Parasite” is one of the strongest films to come out in 2019. If you love tension, suspense and domestic drama, you shouldn’t miss it. If you hate all of those things, then you should still go see it because it provides a masterclass in visual storytelling from a director who has spent almost two decades honing his craft.