Bong Joon-ho’s first purely Korean film in 10 years is a genre spanning masterpiece all based around a central theme of class. Following a poor family who come up with a scheme to get each of them employed by a far more affluent family as tutors, drivers, and household staff. Bong juggles drama, comedy, and thriller masterfully, never fully diving into full comedy or thriller, but having enough of both elements without detracting from drama.
We open with the Kim family struggling to find any kind of free wifi they can connect to in their basement apartment and see how they all tend to take on small and low paying jobs just to get by. This is contrasted completely with the lives that we see the Park family living, and the slow revealing of their attitudes towards others. But Bong never treats them as awful people, they’re not villains in Parasite, but the antagonism towards them from the Kim family feels justified more and more as the film goes on. And that is despite the fact that it is the Kim family that we see committing acts of fraud in order to make a living. It raises a conflict, because these are our protagonists, but we see them doing morally wrong things, but we completely sympathise with them.
The way the film escalates is fantastic as well. Bong Joon-Ho in the midst of this creates an extended scene as tense as any I’ve seen in a horror or a thriller for a couple of years. It is utterly gripping. And then it is followed up with one of the most powerful and moving scenes of the film. It’s exceptional filmmaking from one of the best working today. Bong also spoke about how important the two central houses were, and that the first act of the film is as much about getting to know them as the characters. He achieved these with the help from some exceptional cinematography from Hong Kyung-pyo. And this heightens these powerful sequences because these two central locations are so crucial to how they unfold.
But these complex, genuine characters that Bong has created really make this world feel real, and make that class struggle so relatable and authentic. Song Kang-ho plays the dad of the Kim family, Kim Ki-taek, the one who struggles most with the differences between the two households, and he is incredible. The other big stand out has been Park So-dam who plays his daughter, Kim Ki-jeong, who enters the household under the false name Jessica. The whole cast is fantastic, but its these two that frequently steal scenes with two fantastic performances.
If you’re not familiar with Bong Joon-ho’s work then Parasite is an exceptional place to start. He has dealt with themes of class inequality before, in films like Snowpiercer, but never as masterfully as this. Parasite is an absolute must watch.