Jason Pettus’s review published on Letterboxd:
2019 movie viewings, #117. I know it sounds a bit racist at first to say that no one does horror quite like the South Koreans; but I mean that less as a statement about South Koreans themselves and more a cultural reflection of the current state of the South Korean film industry, which for some reason has embraced the idea of horror as a harbinger of social change way more than most other nations' film industries (especially the US, which despite its recent run of indie hits is still mostly defined by the franchise-friendly '80s paradigm of "Holy Fuck, It's Gonna Kill Us All!"). Bong Joon Ho is a great example of what I'm talking about, a director who has always inserted at least a dollop of political commentary into his genre flicks, most recently in his otherwise cartoonish "the rich fight the poor in a luxury supertrain" actioner Snowpiercer. But in his newest, the universally praised Parasite (which last week officially became the highest rated film in the history of Letterboxd), Bong both ups the ante of his political activism, and dials down his message into a subtle and complex milieu that defies easy explanation, easily the main reason that this film seems to be resonating with such a larger part of the general population than psychological horror movies usually do.
As is typical with these kinds of films, you're best off knowing as little as possible about the surprise-filled plot before you see it yourself; but in general act-one terms, it's safe to say that it's about a family in Seoul who are as poor as poor even gets, who come to believe that they've hit the lottery when they manage to gently con a one-percenter family into hiring each one of them for jobs they're barely qualified to perform, until all hell eventually breaks loose. But unlike most indie social-realist films on the subject, Parasite doesn't hit you over the head with a simplistic leftist platitude like "Poor People Noble! Rich People Terrible!"; as Bong expertly shows, not only is there a mix of good and evil in both families, but the class warfare isn't just limited to them alone either, with there being plenty of poor-on-poor and rich-on-rich violence mixed into this often unexpected and always brilliant script. That's what allows this movie to be both more complex and more fascinating than the usual "Occupy [Fill In The Blank]" story, which Bong gets away with precisely because of this being a genre film instead of a "literary" one, a movie which much like his peer Yeon Sang-ho's recent Train to Busan manages to pack in a lot of sneaky social commentary when it's not busy filling the screen with blood and gore and more blood and more gore.
But don't take my word for it: Parasite won this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes, the first time in the festival's history that the prize has been won by a Korean film; it's considered a shoo-in for next year's Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar; and it now holds the record for highest per-venue box office of any foreign language film in American history, astounding to begin with but nearly unbelievable for a hard-R splatter flick. That says a lot about how complex and hard-to-classify this movie is, a moment in history for the South Korean horror industry to step out of the murky fanboy shadows and proudly take a seat at the mainstream grown-ups table, even if just for a moment. Like everyone else on the planet, I give it a strong recommendation to one and all, a film you'll want to see in an actual theatre on a Saturday night with an enthusiastic audience, so get to it now before it heads to home video.