Parasite (2019) reviewed

Yesterday, I finally got to see one of the best films of 2019. Parasite has been consistently named in most critics’ best of the year lists, becoming the first Korean production to win the Palme D’or at Cannes. The black comedy-slash-thriller is nominated for six Oscars, including Best International Feature, Best Picture, and Best Director. Parasite is the favourite to take out the first, having already got the Globe equivalent. Moreover, the movie represents the first time that a South Korean film gets Academy recognition. The opus of writer-director Bong Joon-ho, the picture is a confluence of genres, a highly unique exploration of germane social themes.  

Two families

Parasite tells the story of two families: the Kims and the Parks. The former subsists in the slums and have it tough. They have low-paying temp jobs and yearn for greener pastures. The son Ki-woo, gets an opportunity when his friend, Min, waltzes into their home. Min tells Ki-Woo to work as a tutor for the wealthy Park’s teenage daughter, Da-Hye. Upon seeing the lavish Park home, Ki-Woo’s mind goes bananas. He sees the brother’s drawings, remarking that it looks like a chimpanzee. The mother, Yeon-gyo, tells him that’s it actually a self-portrait. He then suggests that her son needs an art mentor, and he knows just the one. Boasting Illinois State credentials, he introduces his sister So-dam, alleging that she was based in America. Ki-jeong is an expert forger and enviable con artist, having faked Ki-woo’s university transcript and her own qualifications. Upon gaining the trust of Da-Hye and Yeon-gyo, Ki-jeong removes the long-time driver out of the equation. This paves the way for their father, Ki-taek, to moonlight as the new chauffeur. Not only does Ki-taek drive the Park patriarch around, he likewise helps with the wife’s shopping.

The long-serving housekeeper remains the last piece of the puzzle. This proves fair game for them, as four heads are better than one. Finally, they subtract the maid out of the picture, pointing to her deadly malady. The Park wife is convinced that Contagion is not a good idea and shows the servant the door. Mr Park then recommends his wife through an ‘agency’.  Thus, the infiltration is complete and only the impish son has the vaguest idea. With the Parks gone for a camping trip, the Kim family get a taste of the good life. KI-jeong basks in the hot tub, while the rest of the fam feasts and gets drunk. They make a mess of the dining.

Bunker

Without warning, the old servant demands to be let in. She makes her way downstairs to the secret dungeon. The disguised passageway is next to a heavy bookshelf which the housekeeper pushes as she goes horizontal. Give Bong credit: I half-expected her to speak in Parseltongue, or summon the TARDIS. Everyone is shocked beyond repair when a man says hello from the basement, a man who happens to be the ex-housekeeper’s hubby. Gook, the former servant, explains that most old houses in Korea have bomb shelters built underneath. This came as a result of the war. A holdover from the first owners, Gook hastily brought her husband in while the house was being sold. At first, the Parks have all the cards and the servant pleads to come in even just once a week to bring food for her better half. The truth, though, moves in mysterious ways and, because of their nosiness, the entire operation is compromised. Gook has the upper hand and what ensues is a free-for-all for the survival of the strongest, a class struggle of Dickensian proportions. Gook would move heaven and earth for her husband, while the Parks were all in for each other. This proves the strong bonds within family spheres.

Finale

Gook made sure to bring a thick raincoat as it was absolutely pouring. The deluge went on for hours, making the Parks cancel their trip. After the father called, they had to clean up a storm. They hid like crocodiles and treaded like ghosts in keeping their charade intact. They managed to live for another night. However, they are met with a disaster as they return to their humble abode. They gathered their possessions and it was on to the evacuation shelter. While there, all of them are invited back for the son’s birthday. Ki-Taek would appear as one of the Indians, his wife would help prepare and cook the sumptuous dishes. KI-jeong would give the son company while Ki-woo would spend quality time with Da-Hye. Everything was going fine until Ki-woo decides to enter the dragon. His guilt costs him more than what he bargained for. Geun-sae, Gook’s husband, is unleashed and runs amok like a maniac. The conclusion to this film reminded me a bit of Scorsese’s Departed. There are no inhibitions as Bong kills off one character after another.

Problematising society

As written earlier, the film’s concept is truly novel. In this age of hackneyed blockbusters and cliché sequels, Parasite stands tall as an exercise in originality. The film blends elements of tragicomedy, action, and thrillers. The premise of a family conquest onto a rich counterpart is both new and wicked to me. The production is a testament to the world-class talents of its writer-director. He likewise assembled a banner team to deliver his message. At this point, mentioning the role of Morse Code is of consequence. For years Gook’s husband has been trying to communicate with the outside world through Morse Code. Despite his most trying efforts, this has all been in vain. The code could symbolise barriers, whether lingustic, education-based, or cultural capital, that is not enough. The possession of these tools is insufficient without proper utilisation, advocacy, and the right situation.

In one scene, Ki-woo asks his dad why he doesn’t have a plan. Ki-taek responds that sometimes, it’s best to do away with plans altogether. That way, he argues, you wouldn’t face as much disappointment. The deluge in the movie’s peak was ironic, as Sydney has been raining cats and dogs all weekend. As you can see, Parasite is more than just an allegory on family squabbles; it problematises the social hierarchy. The film satirises class and conflict in our time. My fearless forecast: Paradise would win at least one statuette tomorrow. The picture is simply too promising and relevant to come up empty-handed.

Rating: 4.8/5

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