In Bong Joon Ho’s most recent film endeavor, Parasite, the issue of class in South Korea is poked at, prodded, and flipped on its head in the most engaging, comedic, and unexpectedly dark way possible. The film begins with the impoverished Kim family struggling to maintain WiFi: a stark difference from the wealthy Park family to whom we are introduced as the film progresses. Once the Kim family are able to infiltrate the Park’s home, only then does the true parasite reveal its fangs.
This is my favorite movie of the year, and perhaps my favorite of the past three years. Parasite is truly not what I expected. I went into this film completely unaware of the plot, all I knew was that it was about class in South Korea, and with a title like that, I was half-expecting a The Host style monster to appear, as this is a Bong Joon Ho film, after all. What I got was something far more unnerving than any monster: it was the beast that is adapting to an increasingly growing and terrified South Korean economy. South Korea is growing, there is no doubt about that. With rising international trade thanks to gigantic corporations stationed there (Samsung, Hyundai, Korean Pop Music), there are going to be disparities between the rich and the poor – BIG ones. Parasite demonstrated these with razor sharp wit and dark jokes that made me feel almost guilty about laughing at them. South Korea is terrified, though, not at the future of their wealth, but rather their button-happy neighbors in the North. Parasite skirts a dangerous line in their satirizing of Kim Jong-Un, and much like my guilt at laughing at class differences, I felt like if I laughed any harder at the scene in which the North Korean leader is made fun of, I might get put on some sort of list. That’s the beauty of Bong Joon Ho’s comedy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now, after getting some of the context out of the way, what makes this film so good? Why did it receive the Palme D’or? Why has it become such a sensation in a country that doesn’t really like to read subtitles that much? Simple: it’s the screenplay. I have seen very few films that are quite this engaging, quite this funny, and worthy of me holding off going to the bathroom for a good hour or so. The story is simple, down-to-earth, and oddly relatable despite how outlandish it is at times. In my opinion, many films see visuals first, story second, and I think that’s why Parasite is so refreshing. It values its story more than its visuals. Don’t get me wrong, the cinematography is fantastically sleek and clean, though that’s not what Bong Joon Ho focused on. He wanted to make a film that’s a story, not just something to be gawked at.
As for some of the smaller components to this film, I think that the score and the use of the two houses (the Kim family’s house and the Park family’s house) are the most noteworthy. For the score, there’s a simple melody that is used throughout the film, though as the plot gets darker and more twisted, so does the music. Some quick wrist flicks on stringed instruments, and you get the sounds of bug wings, or for the sake of this film, the wings of parasites. That’s all you hear towards the end: the melody warped by insect wings. The use of the two houses, however, is more in line with my affinity for the storytelling, as Bong Joon Ho used these two houses almost like characters of their own. Once the Kim family begins living their lives in the Park’s house, the Kim family’s demeanor changes along with it.
Parasite is incredible. If there is only one movie that you could watch from 2019 for the rest of your life, this should be it. This film is a must-see.