Combining satire, dark humour and social commentary to brilliant effect, it comes as little surprise that Parasite picked up the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Korean director Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer, Okja, The Host) seemingly has little interest in being confined to the narrow parameters of a particular genre, mixing numerous elements to create films that are every bit as funny as they are a serious examination of the state of the world. In this instance, Bong delivers a not-so-subtle exploration of social class in contemporary Korea that is unbearably tense one minute and uproariously funny the next. A significant twist midway through proceedings comes as a genuine surprise and adds an additional element to what is already a riveting drama in which a family of have-nots set out to improve their lot in life through a series of deceptions targeting a much wealthier family.
Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) shares a dank underground apartment with his father Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), mother Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang) and sister Ki-jung (So-dam Park) that is situated, both literally and figuratively, at the lower end of town. Their only income is a pittance earned by folding boxes for a local pizza joint until a friend announces that he is heading overseas and offers to recommend Ki-woo as his replacement for his job tutoring Da-hye Park (Hyun seung-Min), the teenage daughter in a very wealthy family. With Da-hye’s dim-witted mother Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo) also seeking an art teacher to tutor her young son, Ki-woo hatches a plan to get Ki-jung the job and it isn’t long, through a series of manipulations, that both Chung-sook and Ki-taek also find themselves employed in the Park household. The whole scenario is typical of the absurdist elements that Bong weaves into his films that somehow never seem to undermine the seriousness of the drama that is unfolding.
When the recently ousted housekeeper returns one night while the Parks are away, the story takes a sudden turn that ultimately leads to a wild showdown that is hilarious despite the violence that ensues. It is as brilliantly executed as it is genuinely surprising and Parasite confirms Bong, who also co-wrote the screenplay, as one of the best filmmakers in the business at the moment. The cinematography from Kyung-pyo Hong, who has worked with Bong previously on Mother and Snowpiercer, superbly articulates the contrasts between the cramped confines of the underground flat and the vast, architectural splendour of the Park house.
This is a film that succeeds on every level with the changes in tone and narrative trajectory handled with aplomb. The performances from all the cast, some of whom will be instantly recognisable by anybody familiar with Bong’s previous films, are first rate and his direction is meticulous. Despite their deceptions, it is easy to understand the motivations of Ki-woo and his family. It is not the characters upon whom Bong wants us to pass judgement, but rather the real enemy of the piece; the system that produced them. With a gut-punch ending that serves as one of the most memorable final acts of recent memory, this is a dazzling, daring and devastating film. Gripping and finely crafted, Parasite is a stunning piece of cinema that will shock you and make you laugh, but will also make you think.