Parasite (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): An absurd family comedy by Bong Joon-ho

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Bong Joon-ho’s latest film “Parasite’, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in last month while also incidentally distinguishing itself as the first South Korean film to receive the award, is a funny and enthralling genre piece packed with superb elements to be appreciated and admired. Because many of its highlights depend a lot on its dexterous handling of mood, story, and characters, I will try as much as I can for not revealing any possible spoiler in the following paragraphs, but I sincerely recommend you not to read further if you already decided to watch it.

At first, the movie observes how Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his lower-class family live day by day in their seedy semi-basement residence. Their main income comes from folding pizza packing papers, but that is usually not enough for them, and we get an amusing scene where they try to use wireless Internet service for free in their residence. After searching for any free Wi-Fi network signal here and there in their residence, they finally find an ideal spot, and that is one of the most humorous moments in the film.

And then a very good opportunity comes to them on one day. Ki-taek’s son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-Shik) has a college student friend, and, because he is soon going to leave South Korea for his education, this friend asks Ki-woo to work as an English tutor for the adolescent daughter of some rich family instead of him. Although he is not a college student, Ki-taek presents himself with a false college certification deftly forged by his sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam), and it does not take much time for him to get hired once he shows some charm and confidence in front of Da-hye (Jung Ziso) and her mother Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong).

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After that point, the movie cheerfully depicts how Ki-woo’s other family members creep into Yeon-kyo and her family’s daily life one by one. When it seems Yeon-kyo’s young son needs some help via art therapy, Ki-woo promptly introduces Ki-jung as a friend of his who happens to be an art school student, and Ki-jung’s subsequent employment is soon followed by the respective employment of Ki-taek and his wife Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin). While understandably hiding that they are actually a family, Ki-taek and his family serve their wealthy employers mostly well, and Yeon-kyo and her husband Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) do not mind that at all as long as their luxurious daily life in a slick modern house is continued as usual.

This is surely a familiar setup, but the movie constantly grabs our attention with not only its distinctive mood but also a bunch of meticulously specific details to be noticed. Ki-taek and his family’s residence is so realistically and palpably shabby that you may often feel like touching or smelling it, and you will not be that surprised when one certain character happens to sense something common behind Ki-taek and his family at one point. While making an effective visual contrast with Ki-taek and his family’s residence, Yeon-kyo and her family’s posh residence frequently reminds us of the class divide between her family and Ki-taek’s family, and we see why Ki-taek and his family feel tempted to cross the line a bit as getting more accustomed to their changed circumstance.

Once its background and characters are fully established, the screenplay written by Bong and his co-writers Han Jin-won and Kim Dea-hwan throws a number of narrative turns step by step, and that is when the story becomes darker and more unpredictable. While casually wielding its wry sense of humor as before, the movie steadily builds up more tension along its increasingly disturbing plot, and its logical conclusion is nothing short of stunning for the devastating sense of inevitability as well as the flawless execution by Bong and his crew members. While cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, who has been one of Bong’s usual collaborators, deserves to be praised for several striking visual moments to be savored for their precise composition and lighting, the editing by Yang Jin-mo is noteworthy for its taut, efficient aspect, and the score by Jung Jae-il is also impressive as often functioning as a succinct counterpoint for the story.

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Bong assembled a bunch of talented performers for his movie. While Song Kang-ho, who has been a usual persona for Bong’s movies since “Memories of Murder” (2003), is solid as before, the other main performers in the film are equally good on the whole, and they give a tremendous ensemble performance without overshadowing each other at all. While Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, and Jang Hye-jin are suitably cast in their respective roles, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, and Jung Ziso willingly throw themselves into their superficial characters, the special mention goes to Lee Jung-eun, who steals the show as a crucial supporting character in the film.

Since his modest debut feature film “Barking Dogs Never Bite” (2000), which may deserve more attention in my inconsequential opinion, Bong has always been an interesting filmmaker who has never bored me during last 19 years. Besides “Memories of Murder”, “The Host” (2006), and “Mother” (2009), he also gave us “Snowpiercer” (2013) and “Okja” (2017), and “Parasite” confirms to me again that he is indeed a master filmmaker willing to advance further for his singular artistic vision.

Although I must say that I am not exactly sure about its greatness unlike some other local critics, I agree nonetheless that “Parasite” is one of the best South Korean films of this year, and it will surely propel further Bong’s ever-growing career and reputation considering its glorious victory at the Cannes Film Festival of this year. In short, this is a masterwork to be cherished for legitimate reasons, and I can assure you that you will not regret once you watch it.

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