Parasite ★★★★★

For over fifteen years since he first announced himself as an international filmmaker to command respect with Memories of Murder (2003), South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho has displayed unusual intelligence and skill while combining thrills, chills, social commentary, and dark humor in such highly distinct films as The Host (2006), Mother (2010), and Snowpiercer (2013). With his latest triumph Parasite, which claimed the top prize at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Bong has crafted arguably his greatest masterpiece; A deeply engrossing domestic thriller that examines class and privilege in a manner that's both insightful and darkly funny, with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

Parasite begins by introducing viewers to the unfortunate circumstances of the Kim family; father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) is an out of work driver who lives in a dingy, overcrowded apartment with his wife Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam). The clan has fallen on hard times, barely able to scratch a living folding pizza boxes while stealing their neighbors wi-fi. A glimmer of hope for the family arrives when a friend of Ki-woo's who is leaving the country to study abroad delivers a parting gift in the form of a large rock which is said to bring good fortune, and more importantly for Ki-woo an opportunity to be the new english tutor of the daughter of the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Park (Lee Sun-kyun and Cho Yeo-jeong). When Ki-woo is hired by Mrs. Park to tutor Da-hye (Jung Ji-so) he learns that their youngest child Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon) is in need of an art teacher. Ki-woo recommends they hire Ki-jeong for the position while failing to mention that she's his sister. Ever the opportunists, it's not long before the entire Kim family begins scheming to enter the employment of the Park family who has no idea they're all related, even if it means getting their current driver and loyal housekeeper Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) fired through unscrupulous and immoral means. Eventually Ki-taek and his family's fortunes appear to have finally been reversed, though as they all slowly come to learn maintaining the ruse ultimately proves much easier said than done.

That's all I want to mention in terms of plot summary, as Parasite is a film that truly rewards viewers who go into it with the least amount of knowledge in terms of what to expect. I was fortunate enough to attend a preview screening of Parasite completely cold knowing only the film's director and that it was highly acclaimed by critics and festival audiences, and other first-time viewers should be similarly lucky. Despite the large ensemble cast it's a real testament to Bong's abilities as a storyteller that one never feels confused about characters and their relationships to each other as the drama unfolds. There's a real economy to his screenplay that presents viewers with exactly what we need to know, no more and no less, to best serve the action onscreen. When Parasite does ratchet up the tension in the latter portions of the film it is to extraordinary effect, as Bong crafts moments of suspense that earn him apt comparison to Alfred Hitchcock at his best. In many ways I found Parasite to be something of a companion piece to another of 2019's best films, Jordan Peele's Us, as both are domestic thrillers which deal with themes of class and privilege and feature two families who are sort of mirrors of each other, while also combining social commentary with dark comedy and unexpected bursts of violence. The cast is uniformly excellent, with the veteran actor and frequent collaborator of Bong's Song Kang-ho giving a particularly impressive performance as the patriarch of the Kim family. He commands sympathy and understanding with an everyman quality while also at the same time conveying a darker underlying desperation which leads viewers to wonder how far he will ultimately go to ensure his family's lot in life remains secure.

I can say with certainty that Parasite is one of the very best films of 2019, it sets a new high watermark in the career of Bong Joon-ho while confirming his status amongst our best international filmmakers alongside such contemporaries as Christian Petzold (Transit) and Claire Denis (High Life). Parasite should be at the forefront of every cinephiles must-watch list this award season.

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