Parasite ★★★★½

It is always exciting to see what the Frenchies decided was film of the year as it never fails to be a better pic than whatever the Hollywood circle-jerk showers with a bukkake of critical accolades come Springtime. Little did I expect Cannes Film Festival to award the prestigious Palme D’or this year to a director who has been one of my least favorite filmmakers...until now. Bong Joon-ho’s English film debut, 2013’s Snowpiercer, struck me as overrated and dumb while 2017’s Okja was cartoonish and ham-fisted. It didn’t help that he’d relegated two of my favorite actors, Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, to cringe-inducing career-low sideshow performers. Besides that, I just couldn’t vibe with his grotesque and bumbling concoction of family-friendly cuteness, ultra violence, and quirky humor. It reeked of trying too hard and failed to land with me at every turn. With that said, let me be the first and most surprised person to say with no reservations Parasite is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

However, there’s the other genetically engineered super pig in the room: Parasite has an awful lot in common with last year’s Palme D’or winner Shoplifters. Putting aside that the former is a Korean production and the latter was Japanese, both films follow the lives of a poor family as they struggle on the fringes of society, running cons and scams to get by in a callous world. They are held together by their honest love for one another, and their example is set juxtaposed to the neglectfulness of a consumerist society that allows so many to fall through the cracks in the first place.

But the main way that Joon-ho one-up’s his award-winning predecessor is with an incisive sense of humor suffused in each character, a humor that is immediately, physically translatable despite the language barrier. It works here so well precisely because it’s reigned in and understated throughout the film, making the more manic parts hit harder - such as when Park So-Dam apathetically lights a cigarette on a lidded toilet spewing flooded sewage out the sides. The class conscious themes that have pervaded Joon-ho’s science fiction offerings up to this point are given a much greater sense of immediacy and relatability as we watch this struggling family elbow their way into the good graces of a rich, privileged, and naive family. Beside the obvious “haves vs. have-nots” one would expect from this scenario, there’s clearly an exploration of the structures that relegate people into servitude and poverty for generations, not just by the wealthy elite but by the pervasive mechanisms of misfortune that are maintained by the working class as we claw at each other’s throats for short-term gain.

Believe the hype, Parasite is well deserving of the praise it has received thus far. It’s tense, hilarious, and poignant, and I’m forced to genuinely re-evaluate this director’s output knowing that he knocked it out of the park this time.

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