The following article is a part of Full Circle’s coverage of Fantastic Fest 2019.
Throughout his illustrious career, South Korean auteur Bong Joon-Ho has tackled a variety of tough subjects. There’s the monster of The Host, the explosive class warfare of Snowpiercer, or the examination of exploitation of Okja. But with his latest, Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho examines something far scarier: late-stage capitalism.
Parasite follows the Kims, a family living in squalor who do whatever they can to get by. The son, Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), finds an opportunity for upward mobility when he forges some credentials to be the tutor for the prestigious Park family. Eventually, he manages to get his entire family employed by the Parks in various positions through also dishonest means. As they begin to leech off of the high life of the Parks, the Kims slowly become corrupted by the life of the upper-class leading to a conclusion that’s as shocking as it is profound.
It’s hard to discuss Parasite because, well, it’s a film that very much should be seen. Nothing I can say in this review will do it justice. The performances are all great across the board, with none of them in particular standing above the rest. In terms of flaws, it has very few. The pacing might be a little slow for some and some of the tonal shifts cause a bit of whiplash, but that’s really it. Bong Joon-Ho retains a tight grip on his material in a film that makes its point very clear.
Even though they have very little of it, money is the most important thing to the Kim family. Every scene in the films involves the Kims trying to increase their station in any way possible. At first this starts out as trying to get out of the poverty they find themselves in, but soon it turns to selfishness. They constantly take advantage of the luxuries that the Park family has, indulging rather than getting their necessities.
Despite their actions, the Kims remain somewhat sympathetic. After all, they’re a product of our current world, where wealth is aspired to and a selfish mindset feels almost necessary to make it in today’s world. You pity the lengths they’ll go to yet also understand that they’re monsters of culture’s creation. On paper, the Park family should be seen as victims, being taken advantage of in every way. Yet, Bong Joon-Ho and co-screenwriter Han Jin-Won find the tragedy in the Kims. They don’t see that what they’re doing is wrong because they’ve been conditioned to strive to do whatever it takes to get wealth.
In its third act, Parasite really comes together. Bong Joon-Ho steers the film away from tense drama into full-on thriller mode. The Kim family goes to such lengths to hold on to what they have, that they end up in a situation that comprises any last morality they have within them. Yet, you wonder how much of this is actually their fault. By the time the film ends, you’re breathless, and more than a little bitter towards the world we live in.
That’s the haunting beauty of Parasite. The film is the first since 2013’s Blue Is The Warmest Color to win the prestigious Palme d’Or by a unanimous vote, and it’s easy to see why. Small flaws aside, Bong Joon-Ho puts a mirror up to our society in a way that might be uncomfortable, but is entirely necessary. –James Preston Poole