Updated: Sep 24, 2020
It may be cheating to consider a review for a movie that has been out for months and just won Best Picture at the Academy Awards as an "instant" review, but this writer only recently got to watch the movie, so here we are. Besides, Parasite received a wider release after it's big win, so the statute of limitations stands here.
If you have not seen the movie, I caution that you should stop reading here if you have intentions on watching it at some point. Parasite is an odyssey, a genuinely remarkable piece of film making that takes the viewer on a journey of class examination. It is an enjoyable film-watching experience, one enhanced with no real prior knowledge of the plot. While I won't ruin the ending, I will discuss key plot lines and themes from the movie. Parasite is the main course in a five-course meal, don't ruin the experience by indulging in a snack beforehand.
Parasite follows the Kims, a family living in a basement apartment in the slums of South Korea. The Kim's, made up of patriarch Ki-taek, matriarch Chung-sook, son Ki-woo, and daughter Ki-jung, struggle to meet ends while working a temporary job as pizza box folders. The family's future is forever changed, however, when Ki-woo's friend Min-hyuk arrives one day to deliver the family a scholar rock, an item that is supposed to bring wealth to the family. Min-hyuk, who is about to go abroad to study, also suggest that Ki-woo take his job as an English tutor for Da-hye, the daughter of the wealthy Park family.
While initially hesitant, Ki-woo agrees, posing as a university student to gain employment with the Parks and is renamed "Kevin" by Mrs. Park. Noticing Mrs' Park's tight-laced yet gullible personality, Ki-woo hatches a plan to infiltrate the home by getting his whole family jobs working for the Parks.
First, Ki-jung poses as an art therapist to work with the Park's troubled son Da-song and is subsequently called "Jessica" by Mrs. Park. Ki-jung then frames the Park's driver for having sex in their car, which allows Ki-taek to get hired as his replacement on the recommendation of Ki-woo. Finally, Chung-sook replaces the families housekeep after the Kims successfully convince Mrs. Park that Moon-gwang has tuberculosis.
Quite honestly, it's difficult not to root for the Kims to succeed. While innocent people get hurt by their actions, they prove to be ingenious in their ability too systematically con the Park family. They detail out each step of their plan meticulously, practicing speeches, and walking through situations they may encounter. Their ability to act as a cohesive unit is their greatest strength as they infiltrate the Park's home.
In contrast, the Park's are unable to see the events unfolding due to the distance between them, a symptom of their economic status. To avoid social embarrassment, the family sweeps any issue that would risk their standing under the rug. None of this is to say that the Park's don't care for one another. They are just willing to lie to one another to protect their place in their social circles.
Mr. Park is aloof, too consumed by his work to notice when things at home seem weird. Mrs. Park is preoccupied with providing her children opportunities to experience western culture, a symbol of prestige in the economic system. If they'd stop to talk, the Parks would recognize something strange is happening around them.
The Kim's easily recognize this divide, taking advantage of it to cement their place in the Park's seemingly grandiose life. When the Parks go on a camping trip, the Kims cannot resist the opportunity to celebrate their success by spending the weekend at the Park's home. For a moment, their meek existence is no more as they dream of the bright future their new jobs will provide. While they have been able to climb up from their slum dwellings to a seemingly better existence, their whole world comes crashing down when former housekeeper Moon-gwang arrives, revealing a dark secret living in the Park's basement.
From here, the film goes into a dark and twisted journey detailing the lengths the Kims will go to protect the precious existence they have cultivated. On top of this, Ki-taek begins to take personal issue with the Park's reaction to how he smells. To say more would ruin the ending of the film, but writer and director Bong Joon-Ho manages to create a climax that perfectly infuses humor, violence, and suspense unpredictably.
Few filmmakers can balance all of these elements so graciously. The greatest strength of Parasite is the cohesive voice Bong Joon-Ho brings to both the writing and directing. His passion for the story shines through in all aspects of the film.
The story is a captivating film examining the societal class structure. Bong Joon-Ho has described this as a stairway movie, a term used to symbolize the economic status of the Parks and the Kims. Throughout the film, the Kims work to move from the confinement of their societal downstairs existence by finding their staircase to a more respected upstairs life. To do so, the Kims will do whatever it takes to improve their standing, including pushing others down staircases, both literal and metaphorical, when necessary.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Kim's home isolates them from the real world. Their house is surrounded by trees, making it impossible to tell they live in a metropolitan area. More importantly, their existence is consumed with maintaining their status upstairs, don't even realize their basement is hiding deadly and dangerous secrets.
Bong Joon-Ho doesn't paint either family as being the antagonist of the story, uniquely positioning Parasite as a film without any real villains. Instead, he constructs a narrative that emphasizes the mutual parasitic nature of the two families' relationships. For the Kims to improve their financial standing, they imbed themselves in the Parks home. The Parks subsequently maintain their position in a society largely relying on the services of people like the Kims who clean their homes or chauffeur them around town. They all benefit from one another.
This begs the question then, can you ever really work your way out of the basement? Parasite doesn't necessarily answer this question cleanly. The Kims were able to climb that staircase to a better life, if even for only a moment. But at what cost? By moving up, they subsequently pushed others back down. The Park's life was uninterrupted, allowing the cycle of the rich getting richer to continue while those on the bottom fight one another for the limited opportunity for better opportunities.
While Parasite doesn't offer up neat answers to the questions it raises, director Bong Joon-Ho's film is a tour de force. Parasite is a gripping tale that manages to balance humor, violence, suspense, horror, and drama throughout. It is firing on all cylinders, with strong acting, visuals, and direction. I do hope more people get over the idea of having subtitles throughout the film as Parasite is one of the most captivating films of the last decade. It is truly a beautiful movie. If I were to rank Parasite out of scholar rocks, I would give it ten scholar rocks, the highest total on the scholar rock scale.