I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of immediately inducting a film into the CoF Hall of Fame after just one watch, but there are certain films for which it is unavoidable.
Parasite is one of those films. After premiering at Cannes in 2019, Parasite won the Palme d’Or. At the 92nd Academy Awards, it then won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film – making it the first non-English language film to win the coveted Best Picture award.
Still, all those accolades don’t necessarily mean anything to the average moviegoer. Luckily, Parasite is an utterly exceptional piece of film, recognition entirely notwithstanding.
From the very first scene, Parasite establishes an incredibly subtle comedic tone, with the Kim family frantically seeking free Wi-Fi in their tiny basement apartment, eventually finding it by squatting in a corner by their toilet. It not only sets the tone for the film, but it also introduces the audience to its characters and their struggle to survive on the bottom rung of South Korean society. It immediately elicits sympathy for the Kims’ situation, but there’s also something inherently sweet about the opening scenes, with the family all working together to fold pizza boxes in order to scrape by financially.
When Ki-woo, the Kim family’s teenage son, is able to get a job tutoring English for the affluent Park family, he is able to leverage a job for his sister, who poses as Jessica, an eccentric art student, offering art therapy to the Park’s young son. After framing the Park’s driver, they are able to replace him with the Kim patriarch, and then exploit the Park family housekeeper’s peach allergy to have her replaced with mother Chung-sook. With the entire family defrauding the Parks as their work as household staff, there’s a delicate balance of tension and comedy – at least until their deception threatens to unravel and they must scramble to keep it intact.
Parasite is paced so delicately that it simply sweeps you away, and you’ll find yourself both on the edge of your seat and hopelessly lost in the narrative. There are several scenes that practically redefined the term ‘nail-biting’ for me, and without expecting it, I found myself thoroughly invested in the film’s story.
The subtle comedy of the first half disappears as the tension builds, giving way to a far more dramatic – yet still perfectly plausible – chain of events. I always try to keep these reviews spoiler-free, so I won’t allude to how the events actually play out, but they came to a conclusion that was simultaneously unexpected, logical, satisfying, and slightly upsetting.
It’s not just the film’s narrative that makes Parasite such an intensely satisfying watch, though. It’s brought to life by a beautiful score consisting of minimalist piano and occasional percussion, and its themes are powerful if possibly a little alien to some Western audiences. The depiction of South Korea’s social issues and the oceans between social classes are done with a playful tone that doesn’t quite hide the characters’ desperation, and the average viewer can relate to both (or neither, depending on your perspective) the Kim and the Park families without ever really feeling the need to take a side.
Bong Joon Ho was able to use Parasite to create an absolute masterpiece of storytelling, and its a film that’s enjoyable in every way – transcending genre, culture, and generation to deliver a powerful and beautifully crafted piece of film
Summary: There’s not a single aspect of Parasite that is anything but outstanding. An absolute masterpiece of cinema and a true must-watch.
Highlights: Parasite’s entire last half is a journey that will shred your nerves and render you entirely incapable of looking away – a chain reaction of events that leads to one of the most memorable finales in all of cinema.