Because it is the most original, genre-bending film of the year, Parasite deserves a view in the theatre. Because its message is a bit heavy handed and exploits itself at the very end, Parasite leaves you longing not for more but less.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely. It’s just too unique to be missed.
Is it missing something? Yes. A visit to the editing room.
We follow the unemployed Kim family who live in the slums of urban South Korea. The father Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), and mother, Chung-sook (Hyae Jin Chang), are more content to dwell on a successful past than to look for a job, the son, Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), has college aspirations but a bad knack for procrastination, and his older sister, Ki-jung (So-dam Park), is the most contemptuous of the bunch. As they gleefully welcome the free fumigation fumes from the outside to enter their basement dwelling, one wonders if they have motivation to change or even want motivation to change.
An opportunity to work as an English tutor for the wealthy Park family sparks hope in Ki-woo, who has just begun college applications. The Park family – Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo) and Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee) and their two kids – have no idea that by inviting Ki-woo into their home, they are also inviting one of the juiciest cons a family could draw up. Before they know it, the Parks have employed Ki-woo to be their tutor, Ki-jung to be their art teacher, Ki-taek to be their driver, and Chung-sook to be their nanny.
This is when the movie really gets going. It’s silly, sick, and downright odd. And, when the hoodwinking Kim family discovers a secret in the basement, this South Korean The Sting goes to South Korea, the horror film. The abrupt switch in tone and genre is refreshing, but one wonders how Director Bong Joon Ho is going to get out of the mess he created. His solution is an unpleasant mixed result, not as seamlessly woven like his setup. But, Bong Joon Ho deserves praise for his audacity in a time when audacity is what it takes to move movies forward.
I like Bong Joon Ho movies. The Host (2006), Snowpiercer (2013), and Okja (2017) feature brilliant unfoldings of what lurks behind the literal or metaphorical door, and there’s always a social commentary concealed within the message. In Parasite’s case, the message isn’t subtle enough – there’s an obvious social class schism in South Korea, and one family tries to take matters into its own hands, using any means necessary.
I think it’s the “unfolding” ability Bong Joon Ho possesses that I enjoy the most. Like the masterpiece of Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (1999), Parasite meticulously unveils one surprise gradually after the other, and the viewer has very little to anticipate. This unpredictability is part of the fun, especially if you’re a seasoned moviegoer. The unveiling of the basement is the best part, and I won’t say anything more about it.
Parasite is definitely worth a go. A few cuts in the editing room and a more subtle touch on the social message would have polished it into one of the best of the year, but it will certainly make my Top Ten.