The most original film to come out of this year’s award season, Bong Joon-ho’s Korean masterpiece Parasite which can only be described as brilliantly bizarre. Since its premiere at Cannes Film Festival, the film world has been abuzz for this film. It subsequently took home the prestigious Palme d’Or beating out Quentin Tarantino’s mainstream favourite Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (you can read my review here) and has become a huge favourite this awards season, breaking the mold by being the first Korean film nominated for major awards. Particularly for non-English language films, Parasite has managed to achieve the impossible but it has done so for a reason. Joon-ho’s flawless mix of genres means that you cannot really place Parasite within a particular set. It is a perfect mix of drama, comedy, horror and thriller while also discussing a variety of topics including classism and gender. Parasite refuses to conform and because of this, it stands out as one of the most original pieces of the 21st century.
The film follows the Kim family made up of father Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), son Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Kim Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) as they struggle to make ends meet by working temporary jobs that pay little and are living in a semi-basement that is constantly subject to flooding, public urination and fumigation. When Ki-woo is given the opportunity to work as an English tutor to a daughter of the affluent Park family, the Kim family concoct a plan to create jobs for themselves in the stylish household thus earning a decent wage and living the high life themselves as the Park family’s household grows evermore unstable. On the other side, there is the Park family consisting of father Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), mother Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), daughter Park Da-hye (Jeong Ji-so) and son Park Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun) and their housekeeper Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun). It is a film that presents the extreme balance of classism from either side with the housekeeper acting as the literal and figurative gatekeeper in the middle.
Joon-ho’s direction feels unique and innovative as he manipulates setting and space to create an alternative universe within a very grounded and real place. The physical placement of the Kim family’s house being below the ground and the Park’s mansion placed high up on a hill creates a physical hierarchy. The airy, spacious setting and architectural minimalism of the Park home screams luxury and relaxation which is a stark contrast to the crammed and narrow corridors of the Kim basement where the toilet sits on a higher level to the rest of the bathroom. Joon-ho’s decision to only show the two homes as primary location only exemplifies the issues of class and belonging even more. It is no surprise that it is the smell of the basement that lingers with the Kim family and creates a separation between the two families. Despite being treated as such, they can never truly be equals. Joon-ho’s script, co-written with Han Jin-won is sharp and natural. They know when the film benefits from minimal dialogue and when to create chaos as the two families clash. As mentioned before, the film is a mix of many genres and doesn’t really have a place within one category. This isn’t a bad thing at all because in a way, it has shown Joon-ho’s skill as a filmmaker.
The main cast capture the film perfectly. One particular highlight is Song Kang-ho who brings a phenomenal performance as the Kim patriarch Kim Ki-taek who finds work as the Park family driver, mainly working for the family patriarch Park Dong-ik. He doesn’t hesitate to manipulate the Park family and take advantage of the luxury lifestyle but becomes deeply affected and paranoid when the comments of the Kim family smell arise. It is these moments that ground Ki-taek and make him realise that the lifestyle they think they are living is only an illusion. Despite their hardest efforts, they cannot rid the stench of the basement. Aside from being a film that explores the differences in class, it also does a great job at showing acceptance and place of belonging. Ki-taek doesn’t wish to change anything really and eventually begins to despise Dong-ik. Choi Woo-shik also brings his A game as Ki-woo, a young man who aspires to get out of his current situation. Working as Da-Hye’s English tutor gives him an insight into the life that he wants but not all is as it seems. Ki-woo starts a web of lies as he manages to coerce his employers to hire members of his family without them realising.
Parasite is a fantastically bonkers film bursting to the seams with originality and I hope it triumphs at the Oscars and wins the major awards. As much as I did enjoy Sam Mendes’ frontrunner 1917 (you can read my review here), Parasite is a film that brought more to the table and something different. Not only would it be an incredible moment for film history to see a Korean film sweep some major awards that are often excluded to English-language films only (insert Roma snub here). The hype that Parasite has generated is truly deserving and it’s great to see that it is connecting with a global audience.
What do you think of Parasite? Let me know in the comments below!