The Kim family lives in a cramped sub basement apartment cobbling together an existence from odd jobs like folding pizza boxes when their son, Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi, "Okja"), is handed a golden opportunity by a friend. Min (Seo-joon Park), a college buddy from when Ki-woo could still afford to go, has been tutoring a rich girl, Da-hye Park (Jung Ziso), and wants Ki-woo to take over and keep Min's romantic interests in the teenager viable while he goes abroad. Once Ki-woo scopes out the situation and sees how gullible Da-hye's mother Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo) is, it's only a matter of time before the entire family is employed in cowriter (with "Okja" assistant director Jin Won Han)/director Bong Joon-ho's ("Memories of Murder," "Snowpiercer") Cannes Palme d'Or winner, "Parasite."
South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has exhibited a crackerjack ability to marry genre with social commentary in films ranging from moody thrillers to monster movies to a little girl saving her pet pig from corporate villains. His latest is a pitch black comedy whose twists pull the rug right out from under us as we contemplate just who the villain really is here. As the tone creeps from absurdist humor to deadly seriousness, the Kim family’s devotion to planning is upended when dad Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song, "Memories of Murder," "Snowpiercer") concludes that the best plan is no plan at all. Bong says “Parasite” was influenced by Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” but it had me thinking of the Woody Allen quote ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.’
We are introduced to the Kim family in a panic because their upstairs neighbor has put a password on ‘their’ Wi-Fi. Shortly thereafter, they are subjected to fumes from external fumigation, something Ki-taek welcomes to rid them of the stinkbugs he despises. As the film progresses, he will find himself in their metaphorical company.
Once Ki-woo has a foothold in the spacious modern Park home, the Kim family fortunes seem set. Noting the artwork of 9 year-old Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung), he concocts a story appealing to everything he’s gleaned Yeon-kyo values – exclusivity, connections to the U.S. and concern for her child’s mental health – and brings in his sister Ki-jung (So-dam Park) as the in-demand art therapist friend of a college buddy. She sets up man-of-the-house Dong-ik’s (Sun-kyun Lee)
driver Yoon (Keun-rok Park, “Okja”), opening the door for dad to join the party. All three concoct a devious scheme to oust the Park’s housekeeper Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee, "Okja," "The Wailing"), inherited by the Parks from the home’s architect, to make way for mom Chung-sook (Hyae Jin Chang, "Secret Sunshine"). Then one night, when the Parks are away on a camping trip and the family is indulging in the Parks’ food and whiskey, an unexpected visitor arrives in the pouring rain which should already have had their antennae alert for danger.
The cast is exceptional, So-dam Park particularly amusing in her dictatorial command of her made up profession. Yeo-jeong Jo is naivety personified, projecting fear of incurring her husband’s disapproval (‘You love her, of course,’ being a loaded exchange between Ki-taek
and Dong-ik, who admires his new driver’s ability to come close to but not cross a line.) Jeong-eun Lee expresses just the right amount of suspicion of her employer’s new hires as she tries to maintain a pecking order. Woo-sik Choi balances his performance between taking advantage of situations – including Da-hye – and questioning his family’s choices.
Bong makes exceptional use of space, the Kims’ apartment not only at basement level, but located in a depressed area which, when flooded, turns it into a literal sewer. In one visual gag, the family has to ascend a few feet to reach their own toilet. The Parks’ home is a sleek modern marvel with floor to ceiling windows inviting in their sprawling back yard as well as those who wish to spy upon its occupants. Cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong’s (“Mother”) camera often pans in a vertical motion, emphasizing the upstairs downstairs elements of Bong’s story.
A large rock gifted to bring wealth, peaches, flickering light fixtures and American Indian paraphernalia all figure into Bong’s brilliantly constructed dramedy. “Parasite” is a cautionary tale about the drive to better one’s standing in the social hierarchy. It is also one of the year’s most entertaining movies.
Robin did not see this film.
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