Parasite and all the images you see in this review are owned by CJ Entertainment and Neon
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
The first movie I ever saw on Netflix streaming was Lady Vengeance by Park Chan-wook who is one of the filmmakers in the South Korean New Wave of cinema; along with the director of this film who’s made The Host and Snowpiercer; neither of which I’ve seen which is why I referenced an incidental fact about a tangentially related movie a moment ago. As much as I’ve liked the films of Park Chan-wook like Oldboy and The Handmaiden, I haven’t really explored the rest of this movement in South Korean cinema as much as I should as I’ve seen MAYBE ten minutes of I Saw The Devil and twenty of The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. That all changes today however as I’m here to see a movie that has gotten a bajillion awards and even breaking through at the US box office! Is this the movie as good as everyone says it is, or will I end up being a Grumpy Gus yet again telling you that everyone else is wrong and you should always listen to me? Well, I mean… you should listen to me ANYWAY, but let’s find out!!
The Kim family, consisting of son Ki-woo, daughter Ki-jeong, mother Chung-sook, and father Ki-taek (Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Jang Hye-jin, and Song Kang-ho) are a family living in South Korea that are so lower class that they literally live below everyone else in a basement apartment. They can barely afford food on a daily basis, they have to steal wi-fi from the people upstairs, and pretty much all the life has been sucked out of them. And yet the family being rather smart and talented for the most part (I’m not sure what the dad brings to the table) which makes you wonder if that whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” thing is total nonsense perpetuated by those who were already handed everything in life! Well things might just be turning around for them as Ki-woo’s friend Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon) drops a huge opportunity on his lap with an English tutoring gig for the daughter of a very wealthy family nearby and all he has to do (despite being very good at English already) is pretend that he actually went to university and make up some backstory that sounds impressive. Fortunately the wealthy Park family is somewhat gullible as the mother Park Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) buys Ki-woo’s ploy so easily that he thinks it might be worth getting everyone else in on the scheme as well. While he’s teaching Park Da-hey (Jung Ji-so) English, his sister will teach the son Park Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon) art therapy, their mother will be the housekeeper after they find a way to oust the current one Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) and the father will become the chauffeur for the father Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun)
I always get nervous when movies THIS critically acclaimed come out because if I don’t LOVE it the way that many other people do, I feel it may reflect more at my own lack of skills as a critic than a genuinely different opinion; see also the JoJo Rabbit review. I don’t know, something about the vibe I got from it made me feel that it was going to be perhaps TOO dark for me to fully get on board with even if everything fires on all cylinders, but in the end I’m MOSTLY happy to report that I MOSTLY liked this movie! I had some issues with it and they definitely feel like personal taste sort of things, but it’s quite obvious why this movie has gotten the acclaim that it has even if I personally didn’t find it to be one of THE best movies of the year. Maybe the best absolutely absurd twist this year that’s up there with some of the best Shyamalan has pulled off, and if you say you saw it coming you’re either a liar or a seer because this caught me COMPLETELY off guard!
The movie is essentially a heist movie but for the least flashy of prizes imaginable; essentially gainful employment to drag themselves up by their bootstraps from upper lower class to lower middle class. This is where a good chunk of the political commentary that the film has gained a reputation for comes from, but it’s also perhaps its greatest strength due to the absurdity with which the filmmakers portray it. There are scenes of these characters doing elaborate con jobs with over the top cinematography sexing it up, but the actual content of the scene is ultimately for rather mundane purposes. It’s kind of like the bit in Hot Fuzz where they take the time to show the officers filling out paperwork, but shoot it with the same artistic verve as an action scene. I wouldn’t exactly call it a spoof though as it’s not really pulling THAT much from heist films the same way Hot Fuzz pulls from cop movies, but it does have a darkly comedic streak that keeps the dour messaging from feeling overly preachy.
So what exactly is the message of this movie? Well, that classism sucks and that the wealthy are by no means smarter or cleverer than those on the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Not the first piece of media to take this approach at dismantling capitalism, but because this movie is about a pseudo-heist it gets a bit twisted as your supposed to question just how justified the Kim family is in manipulating this family, i.e. being parasites. On the one hand, they all seem qualified for the position in one way or the other with Ki-woo basically getting the job from the outset, but then the other big issue with this movie is that they have no solidarity with their fellow not-rich class as they cause two people to lose their jobs through no fault of their own, and it only goes downhill from there in the second half. In a sense, the Kim family are the true antagonists as they ultimately do the most damage in the story and we’re hardly going to end capitalism by stabbing each other in the back, but there’s still nuances to be had within that; the conditions that they live in which led to these terrible dog eat dog justifications for their actions. The Park family is completely oblivious to the machinations around them and ultimately suffer the most through basically no direct fault of their own, but then that obliviousness becomes more and more intentional as the movie goes along; burying their heads in the sand to all the tragedy around them and hoping they can carve out an isolated little fiefdom with which to hide from the rest of the world. Ultimately they CAN’T as the ending of this movie clearly shows, but I’d be hard pressed in a million years to see what happens to them as any way justifiable.
Where the film kind of loses me is when things start to go wrong for everyone in the third act. I don’t know, there’s a bitterness and a meanness to the whole affair that isn’t exactly unwarranted, but it starts to make these characters feel more like symbols of class disparity rather than actual people having to live through it. It’s intense to be sure and there are moments that will twist your guts into knots, but there’s just too much sourness at the end for me to feel satisfied for having gone through this ridiculous little journey. You could say that Old Boy had a similar ending in terms of tone and bitterness, but there was still something satisfying in that which is not quite present here. Also, Ki-woo is supposed to be the PRIMARY main character, but he turns out to be a total creep which took me a great deal out of the movie. I guess it’s another indication that these people weren’t all that great to begin with even before getting swept up in this scam, but it’s the BAD kind of negative character flaw that drives you away from the story rather than providing another layer to engage with.
This is a very good movie that ultimately didn’t wow me as much as it did for other critics or as much as other films in the South Korean New Wave like Old Boy and The Handmaiden. Everyone else in the world will probably tell you this is one of the best if not THE best film of the year and I wouldn’t object to those opinions; especially since I don’t have much ground to stand on since I put Star Wars and a Purge Sequel as my favorite films of two years back to back. I can only say that for me it got a bit dreary at the end in a way that didn’t work for me, but pretty much everything else about this movie is funny, intense, and smartly written which makes for quite a good time and a solid recommendation from me. Check this out if you can while it’s still in theaters, but make sure you have something fun to do afterwards to cheer you up after the third act. Maybe watch the hammer scene from Spike Lee’s Old Boy! That always gives me a chuckle!
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