Parasite ★★★★★

As PARASITE chugs along, it drifts through relationship and situational comedy and then through crime thriller tropes as if that was what the film was for. What makes PARASITE work so well is that these genre elements, which drive many films along on their own, are mere cinematic furnishings in Bong Joon Ho's mini epic. As engaging as so many of the scenes are, PARASITE is committed to much more than amusement and genre filmmaking. It is an essay on South Korea class society and how they feed off one another.

The summary of the plot sounds like a British comedy--family members fraudulently get themselves employed by a wealthy family. Each has a different household role that he or she is not particularly qualified for. The script cleverly sets up inherently amusing scenarios in a way that also inherently shocks and creates suspense. After all, if the wealthy family ever figured out its staff's ruse, all manner of drama would unfold. And then, brilliantly and out of left field, halfway through the film, Bong Joon Ho has a massive plot device surface which shifts the film's entire momentum. I'll not get into it, but it ups the stakes of the drama tremendously.

Bong's other films also hit on societal themes, but SNOWPIERCER, THE HOST, and OKJA all rely on his savvy with incorporating special effects into live-action drama. And although those films incorporate the effects nicely, PARASITE is so much richer in a world without them.
Bong's script has richly created societies defined by class--relativity to the poverty line. Basements, hills, stairs, half-basements, ramps regularly define the ascent and descent of its characters. Both worlds are familiar yet foreign to most viewers, I'm sure. It is easy at times to empathize with both the haves and the have-nots, but at other times difficult.

A massive rainstorm illustrates the great disparity between the rich and poor. For the wealthy, the rainfall represents the slightest of first-world problems--a cancelled camping trip. However, in the same community, at the bottom of the hill, the same rainstorm causes flooded home, wrecked property, and evacuations. It's a bold contrast in how society co-exists.

Although it seems clear who the parasitic leeches are, it really isn't. Bong's South Korean elites feed off the working class just as much as the working class feeds off the rich. Following the rainstorm, it is the wealthy who need leech onto the working class, whom they need to pull off a superficial tasks of a child's birthday party.

I can't think of a film that so subtly and powerfully portrays systemic prejudice. The characters' roles in society are bigger and more important than their individual roles in the film. All characters' dreams, actions, secrets, and even their body odor speak to their lot in life within Bong's greater social fabric.
A-

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