Parasite is the newest dark comedy from Bong Joon-Ho, whose previous films The Host, Snowpiercer and Okja (amongst others) all used heightened genre trappings to satirize modern social and class divisions. Parasite is his best, diverging from science-fiction but presenting a no less visually stunning depiction of a family that seemingly has nothing to lose in its discovery of a path from the bottom to the top. Or so they think.
The Kim family lives in a basement apartment on a poor street, where they’re frequently forced to watch people urinate in public. Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), his wife, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and daughter, Ki-Jeong (Park So-dam), make their money through menial work like folding pizza boxes for a local pizzeria. It isn’t a living, but there isn’t anything else to do. Heirlooms from older, better times litter their cramped living space, such as Chung-sook’s Olympic medal for field events.
Something has passed by the Kims, who are trapped in a situation they’re not fully in control of and in no position to change. Is that something a chance? A job? Everyone is struggling around them in an economy that simply doesn’t need their sort of work, or at least doesn’t pay well for it. Even the owners of the pizza box company can barely afford an extra employee, relying on the Kims’ under-the-table labor for undesirable tasks. Their destitution is full and lived-in. The Kims aren’t wallowing, but they’re defeated. When you’re that far down, climbing up isn’t a matter of going rung to rung. You don’t even have a ladder, and the people who do don’t even realize it.
An opportunity presents itself that lets the Kims earn work from a wealthy family, the Parks. Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) is a housewife without much to do besides watch after her children, Da-hye (Jung Ji-so) and Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon). She needs a tutor for Da-hye, a 15-year-old who tends to fall in love with the young men hired to teach her English. Ki-woo is able to become said tutor and soon finds work for the rest of his family in the Park house. Who are the parasites here? Your answer probably aligns with your political leanings. But Bong isn’t messing around and his commentary is definitely pointed at the ways in which money and inequality alter our perception of reality and, by extension, the validity of other human beings.
Parasite is a movie of the moment for those fortunate enough to catch it, a sure-fire award winner that’s simultaneously a crowd-pleaser. The class commentary is welcome, but Parasite is also simply the most well-made movie of 2019. It’s so consistently laugh-out-loud funny, clever and thrilling beyond anything else that has graced a screen this year — a densely layered work with something to say and the confidence to entertain while saying it.
My best advice: Walk into Parasite with no knowledge of the narrative beyond its initial setup but an expectation of breadth and empathy in its social commentary that is just remarkable to find in such a taut thriller. Bong combines it all with indelible images that work on multiple levels. One particular moment involving an overflowing toilet is a chef’s kiss. It is stunning.