Parasite

Parasite
Parasite
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam
In UK Cinemas February 7th, 2020

by Richard Hamer

Director Bong Joon-Ho has always wrestled with issues of class: Be it through the blunt-force metaphor of train-carriages-as-social-strata in Snowpiercer, the literal monster made by a callous government to trample on the local populace in The Host, and even – most recently – in Okja, with its world in which anything born in nature can, and should, be purchasable by the rich.

But never has he confronted class divisions so fiercely – or as brilliantly – as he does here in Parasite. It’s a work of grim surprise, and to even discuss the set-up in too much detail risks ruining the fun. It’s enough to say this: On one end of town we have a poor family, living hand-to-mouth in a run-down ‘semi-basement’. On the other, a rich couple with two children, three dogs and a house-keeper, living together in an absurdly opulent modernist mansion. After being offered a chance to tutor English to the rich family’s teenage daughter, the enterprising Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-shik), along with his sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), mother and father (director’s favourite Song Kang-ho in another brilliant performance) concoct a plan to ‘infiltrate’ their lives.

What happens next is too hilarious, dark and twisted to spoil. While Bong Joon-Ho has always been a bit of the tonal juggler, he’s never been on quite such perfect form: Gone are the awkward swings into absurdist comedy that marred Snowpiercer or Okja (though this is largely Jake Gyllenhaal’s fault), or the occasionally flat characterization. Here is a movie of total cinematic control, from a director it doesn’t feel hyperbolic to declare as a master of his craft: The story is hilarious, empathetic and dense with twists right up until the final frame; its shifts between light comedy and outright terror so well-calibrated as to leave you perpetually, physically uncomfortable.

This is perhaps because, more than anything, what Parasite most resembles is a horror movie: It’s the class struggle as ghost story, the less-economically-fortunate as terrible, vicious but ultimately invisible, ineffectual spectres in the eyes of the rich. And why not horror, Parasite seems to ask?: We, as people, have created a society for ourselves where – based on the value of arbitrary numbers that represent nothing real – vast amounts of the population live ridiculously unequal lives, suffering in iniquity every day. There is a strain of genuine anger at this fact, one that runs right through the belly of Parasite, and which makes it Bong Joon-Ho’s most urgent, important film and a cinematic masterpiece.



 

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