Perhaps the best way to describe my experience of watching Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is to ask you to imagine walking down a spiral staircase. As you descend, you traverse through shafts of light, wells of darkness, spots of cold and warmth, until finally tripping down the last several steps. You are physically unharmed, but maybe you take more from the journey than one might expect from the simple act of walking down the stairs.
If you’ve seen any of Bong’s other films, you’re probably ready for some weirdness and class warfare. Parasite does not disappoint. We open on the Park family. They’re a foursome of low class connivers, swindlers, and con artists who love each other very much. How could you not love them also, as they attempt to master the art of folding pizza boxes for a little extra cash. When Ki-woo, the son played by Woo-sik Choi lucks into a job tutoring the daughter of the wealthy Park family, the infiltration begins. One by one, the Kims worm their way into the Park household, casually sidestepping obstacles. Wealth has fostered a naiveté in the Park family that the Kims take easy advantage of. But then, we think, why shouldn’t they have a little of what the Parks have in abundance? The Parks seem happy enough to oblige. The Kims do not count on their desperate grab for a better life leading to a series of events that will explode into chaos , humor, and at times, horror.
Across the board, the acting is pin-point perfect. Two stand-outs for me are Kang-ho Song playing the father, Kim Ki-taek, and Jeong-eun Lee as Moon-gwang, the unlucky housekeeper of the Park family. Both are able to find the believable through-line of their characters as the narrative dips and dives through both mundanity and madness. Jeong-eun Lee is able to play her character as both easily ignored and a force to be reckoned with. Woo-sik Choi is also excellent as the daydreaming Ki-woo, who believes all will work out, if he only has a plan.
Bong’s camera is positioned perfectly to observe as one family weave themselves into the life of the other. The Parks seem oddly unaware of anything going on just outside the frame. Alarming noise and commotion which should be obvious to any casual observer, somehow are not. Just as much as their wealth protects them, it also makes them blissfully unaware of any danger. The way Bong uses light and shadow and the deepest black builds tension, while giving blissful moments of respite. He’s able to visually articulate how determinedly ignorant we can be of that which we do not wish to see until it’s inevitably right on top of us.
Parasite earned the Palme d’Or for Bong Joon-ho earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, the first Korean film to win the honor. This won’t be a surprise after you see the film. Bong is an incredible storyteller, able to play with our sympathies by letting us into the heart of his characters and the systems they live in. Are the Kims lazy or down on their luck? Are the Parks lucky or deserving? Are any of them really at fault for the fate that befalls them?
Please don’t allow yourself to miss the experience of seeing Parasite in theaters. You have until November 14th at Ciné to catch it.