South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho is more known for genre fare such as “The Host,” “Snowpiercer,” “Memories of A Murder,” and “Okja,” but—and don’t be fooled by its title—in his latest film, “Parasite,” the monsters are all human and even scarier at that.
It is rather strange how thematically similar this latest exercise in shock-genre is to last year’s Palme d’Or winner, “Shoplifters,” but without the subtleties of Hirokazu Kore-Eda‘s film. The heavy-handed social commentary on display in Bong’s film may not necessarily deliver masterful licks, but entertainment wise, it’s a total blast.
The South Korean family at the center of “Parasite” is unemployed and live in a bug-infested basement apartment on the “other side of town.” Patriarch Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) seems to be getting along just fine with his wife, Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), a former athlete, and their two kids, son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam). Upon a tip from a friend, Ki-woo puts his forgery skills to good use, by forging College diplomas in English, and applies for a private tutoring gig for Da-hye (Jung Ziso), the high-schooler daughter of wealthy CEO magnates, Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) and his wife Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong). They live in an architectural dream of a mansion, which motivates Ki-woo in devious ways. He concocts a plan to secure jobs for his entire family by scheming his way into having Mr and Mrs. Park fire their driver, housekeeper, and art therapist and replace them with dad, mom and sister. The plan is a total success, albeit at the cost of losing people their jobs by unfairly smearing them.
That is all I will reveal about the plot, as Bong has requested that reviews be kept at a minimum when it comes to plot details. Suffice to say, what does happen next is a barrage of shocks and surprises, all done with a lack of nuance, which Bong would have easily gotten away with if this had been a genre movie. It’s an unabashedly over-the-top take on economic disparity. Sometimes screaming your message isn’t a bad thing, especially when it involves a topic that screams “2019!”
There’s also an unnecessary coda jammed into the picture, which runs at a fairly heavy 132 minutes, and one-too-many twists as well, begging to ask the question of whether or not Bong will go back to the editing room and cut a good 10-15 minutes out of his movie. I doubt it, at least judging by the raves coming in for the film, especially from younger journalists who couldn’t care less about subtlety or restraint in film. I’m all fine with that, but what “Parasite” isn’t is a masterpiece.
Of note is Hong Kyung-pyo’s glossy but penetrating cinematography, which feels both gritty and luscious, using palettes which contradict one another and yet feel whole. [B-]