Parasite ★★★★

Lookit me, seeing a Palme d'Or winner in a theater! Ever since the left-field surprise of The Host, I've hoped to see another Bong Joon-ho movie with its incredible dynamic range. While Snowpiercer convinced me he was becoming a different sort of filmmaker, working in broader strokes on a bigger (international) scale, this fêted class clash is in fact the rollercoaster I was looking for. At first it feels like a fairly whimsical portrait of a tight-knit grifter family, existing by their wits and savvy, playing angles in the margins. The son's (Choi Woo-shik) friend recommends him to take over a position tutoring a rich teen girl, and soon he's brought everyone else in under aliases as the house staff. Everything's symbiotic until the longtime housekeeper (Lee Jung-eun) they ousted shows back up while the rich family are away, and before you even realize it, the movie starts blossoming into something less and less mirthful.

I've seen Parasite characterized as a dark comedy, and I think that's more indicative of the masterful tone shifts than any cynical glee to be found in Bong's mordant jabs. When it's funny, it can be both arch and sweet, and its initial warmth really allows you feel the chill once tension and tragedy inevitably seep in, strong moments landing with a powerful purity that almost make you forget you were giggling away with these folks an hour prior. None of its characters are devoid of sympathy, and I defy anyone to find any (even purely misanthropic) mirth in its pulse-pounding climax. It's a lively-looking film, benefiting from a diversity of locations that aid its subversive melding of two superficially mirror image families from two different houses, each with their own squalor and splendor. The cast is superb, with Park Chan-wook favorite Song Kang-ho particularly carrying huge emotional weight in his every interaction as the poorer of the patriarchs.

I'll spare you a half-assed analysis of Bong's societal observations, but will say I found the themes very relatable, while appreciating how unobtrusively they're woven into an engaging comedy/drama/crime thriller. Not to bag on Snowpiercer, a wannabe heady popcorn romp that I enjoyed, but Parasite is a far more elegant and affecting critique of social strata, and more intense to boot. I was legit shocked at how much I liked this megahyped arthouse hit, so consider me back on the Bong Joon-ho train. (Every time I pass Okja in my Netflix queue, I never hit play... am I wrong?)

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