Ethan’s review published on Letterboxd:
“If you make a plan, life never works out that way. With no plan, nothing can go wrong.”
Critically acclaimed auteur Bong Joon-ho returns to Cannes film festival this year, becoming the first South Korean director to win the prestigious 'Palme d’Or' award for his latest work, Parasite, a darkly-chilling examination of class inequity and an indictment of late capitalism.
Bong is a peculiar director whose previous works include: Memories of Murder and Snowpiercer. His films regularly transcend the genre qualities one expects it would be beholden to; rather, they are often amalgamations of contrasting genres that somehow piece together under the resolute command of his craft.
His latest work, Parasite, follows this tradition. There are so many twists and turns in the film that crucially inform its political message that it’s best to go in cold. Putting it simply, the plot revolves around the Kim family that is best described as a pack of grifters: all unemployed, living in a gloomy basement, and headed towards poverty. They leech off the Wi-Fi from surrounding coffee shops and fold pizza boxes to stay financially afloat. When a neighborhood fumigator comes their way to spray the surrounding streets, they purposely leave their windows open, in hopes of killing the pests that live among them.
When the eldest son of the Kims, Ki-woo, is given the opportunity to tutor a wealthy teenage girl, Da-hye, he agrees and coyly introduces himself as “Kevin” to the Park family. With his cunning, Ki-woo succeeds in getting the rest of his family employed by the Parks, each maintaining separate identities: his sister as an art teacher to Da-hye’s younger brother, his father as the chauffeur to the Park patriarch, and his mother as the housekeeper. Slowly but surely, the Kims invade the Parks’ household.
The first half of the film is a comedy of manners akin to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest as the audience root for the downtrodden Kims to succeed at the expense of the Parks. It is undeniably entertaining and cathartic seeing the Parks get their comeuppance in this heightened reality. The Parks aren’t the stereotypical wealthy family who are secretly miserable, nor do they hold an outwardly elitist worldview. They live in a large house, wear expensive clothes and lament on small pity things. But underneath their glamorous facade, lies something intentionally ignored so as to not contaminate their immaculate lifestyles; the Parks are bafflingly naive and blissfully ignorant of the fact that their success and wealth is built off the backs of the invisible working class. This obliviousness and bewilderment to social and class inequities somehow make the Parks even more despicable than if they were to be pompous and arrogant about their privilege.
This is not to say the Kims are made to be saints by virtue of the Parks’ ignorance. The Kims are relentless and conniving as they assimilate into the Park family, leeching off their wealth and privilege. But even as the Kims become increasingly convincing in their respective roles, the film questions whether they can truly fit within this higher class. At one point Ki-woo asks Da-hye: “In this setting, do I fit in?” Bong forces his audience to confront the dark truth of capitalism and whether social mobility is even possible when the poor are fighting among themselves to survive while the rich grow richer and more ignorant of the societal issues that plague its most vulnerable. And though the film is steeped in social commentary, it is thoroughly entertaining and never feels like a didactic message movie.
Meticulously crafted and undeniably compelling, Parasite succeeds in its effortless shifting between family drama, comedic satire, and suburban horror to deftly examine the exploitative symbiotic relationship between social classes. It daringly questions whether we too are seduced by the alluring lifestyles of the wealthy as to ignore the appalling social conditions needed to sustain them. Parasite is biting and timely commentary that aptly bookends the 2010s.