Bong Joon-ho's “Parasite” is one of those films that no matter how many hours you spend reflecting on it, you’ll continue to find deeper meaning in the smallest details, be it a sewage-flooded basement, a gifted ceremonial rock, or a discarded packet of hot sauce. This is the type of movie you’ll want to see for the first time knowing nothing about it, so this review will be as vague and spoiler-free as possible.
The film is set in vastly different worlds, and the action mostly takes place in just two confined homes: the basement apartment of the economically challenged Kim family and the sleek, contemporary home of the wealthy Park family. The Kims have the spirit of hardworking grifters and when their son Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) senses a golden opportunity to make some money as an English tutor for the Park's daughter (Ji-so Jung), he accepts.
Once he sees the potential to make even more money, Kim Ki-woo becomes a mastermind and invents characters for each of his family members to play in order to infiltrate the Park's well-to-do home. Street smarts take over and soon, his sister (Park So-dam) is hired as an art therapist, mom (Jang Hye-jin) becomes the housekeeper, and dad (Song Kang-ho) is hired as the Park's personal chauffer.
Joon-ho (who both wrote and directs) creates a disturbing tale of the symbiotic relationship, as the Parks provide luxury services and the Kims are able to support their entire household by “feeding” off each other's wants and needs. The themes in “Parasite” don’t offer anything new, but it’s the storytelling, Joon-ho's mastery of the filmmaking craft, and the blend of dark humor and emotional punch that make this film so unique.
The story is layered in the most brilliant fashion and is a web of timely social themes like wealth inequality and class warfare. One family is struggling to keep the other out, while the other family is so desperately trying to claw their way in. When the story takes a major surprise turn, a sudden battle for dominance breaks out. The war shifts to a savage rivalry not between the affluent and the poor, but it’s the downtrodden who eventually begin fighting each other.
It’s not as easy as you’d assume to pick sides in this story. Everyone is sympathetic in their own way, making any misfortunes hit hard emotionally. There’s a sense of desperation and disgust as the tone seamlessly shifts from funny to distressing to absolute heartbreak in a manner of minutes. The film is unsettling for sure, but there are certain scenes that are unforgettable and will stick with me for a lifetime.
“Parasite” is one of the most intriguing, intelligent, and disturbing films of the year. It’s also one of the best.