This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Nihar’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
In the opening moments of Bong Joon-Ho's extraordinary thriller, we see a family, while eating dinner, peer out from an underground window in their house onto the streets of Seoul filled with garbage bags, stinkbugs, and an occasional drunk who likes to relieve himself. Soon after, they look out of another window, during dinner coincidentally, only this time, it is from inside a mansion only a few blocks away. This is not only a different world, but a different set of people who inhabit it.
There is an observing nature that runs throughout this movie, as Bong never resorts to judging these characters, but rather paint their situation, and what they would do to not be in that situation. Much of the first half is spent providing context to the plight of the Kim family. Ki-Woo (Choi Woo Shik) and his younger sister, Ki-Jung (Park So Dam), find Wi-Fi only behind their toilet in a cramped bathroom. There is a clutter of pizza boxes, dirt, grime, and mildew rotting the apartment as they struggle to land a job. In desperate situations, a family can turn on each other, but there is easy rapport amongst every member from their deadpan father (Song Kang Ho) to their sharp tongued mother (Chang Hyae Jin). Bong never dramatizes their situation, but rather presents what they are willing to do to move up in life, and questions whether they belong in that life. There is an unsentimental view here, a controversial one, of families living in destitute conditions. Would you be willing to give up your sense of morality to survive? Would you do it because you want to or because you have to?
The boundaries that have been established are vital to the understanding of these characters, as they define their actions in the second half of the film.
Ki-Woo soon finds himself in the midst of a tutoring job from a college tutor friend for an upper-class teenage girl. He is introduced to the much wealthier Park family, who live in a modern fortress with a stunning view (incidentally it also blocks the streets of Seoul, letting us know that they have no clue of what is actually going on in the city). Park Yeon-Kyo (Cho Yeo Jeong), the teenager's mother epitomizes the wealthy's superficiality and naivete. Behind the confidence and all of the money, is someone who is incredibly vulnerable, nervous and gullible.
Director Bong Joon-Ho has shuffled across multiple genres in all his films, but none have done it better than Parasite. There is such fluidity to his tonal shifts and none highlight that better than the scene where a character falls down the stairs. It takes place during a scene of immense tension, one where I was clenching my fists, but Bong immediately makes me burst into laughter, only to watch as my smile soon fades into pure horror. There is simply no better film I have witnessed that has the ability to trigger all of my emotions within moments. Bong has never been an exemplary visual director, but Parasite delegitimizes that statement, as Parasite is a treat for the eyes, one that perfectly juxtaposes the wealthy and the poor, with distinct colors and lighting. He has precise camerawork here, following the characters in the massive house, remaining controlled but when all the pieces come together for a scene that transitions us to the second half, it becomes energetic and ecstatic.
An allegory of class rage, Parasite leaves you questioning the meaning behind the title. Is it the poor, who poison the rich with their desire to climb the social status ladder, and will do anything questionable to achieve that goal? Or is it the rich, the ones who live a life of extravagant luxury, unaware of their blissful existence, and represent the affliction on a modern capitalist society? Or is it symbolized by the house, a representation of the Park’s wealth, the ultimate prize for the Kims infecting their morality? Its easy for Bong to target the rich, because its something the audience can get behind, but he never resorts to that crutch. He exposes the truth behind the wealthy, and their cold, cruel, and impersonal behavior. There is no shared love, no empathy, and no family, but he never villanizes. There is a sense of palpable grief and love lost that runs through the family. They are four souls who seem to have lost the sense of family. The Kims, on the other hand are a far more loving unit, but it’s their ambitions that and the manner in which they achieve them that plague their existence.
I haven't seen a plethora of films this year, but Parasite might just put them all to shame. It plays out like a comedy, one that naturally entertains you, without requiring much thought, but it soon reaches a devastating finale bringing it all full circle. Bong has such an acute understanding of the world, our unique states of desperation, and our wavering humanity. Parasite isn't afraid to have controversial opinions and leaving us with more questions than answers, because unfortunately in the real world, we still don't have a clear idea. Where is the line between the rich and poor? What are we willing to sacrifice to cross that line? If we do cross that line, will we be accepted into that world? Or will we be treated as an infectious human being, a parasite?