Parasite (2019)

Directed by
Class consciousness
Reviewed by Simon on 2023-09-03

A poor family methodically worm their way into a rich household after the son gets a tutoring gig, manipulating their hosts with carefully crafted deceptions.

By the time I saw Parasite it was already a phenomenon, capturing global attention more than even OLDBOY had. Hype can be lethal so I knew not to put too much weight on my impressions after a first watch. I liked the film, but no more than other Bong Joon-Ho films, and the ending threw me - it seemed... unnecessary.

Bong keeps things simple on the surface - two contrasting families and an elaborate subterfuge dominate the first half of the film, a clockwork construction that sees the poor but wily Kim family pull one over the rich but naïve Park family. This culminates in a midpoint scene where the Kims celebrate the role reversal they have pulled in the house they now (temporarily) occupy.

Then comes the rug pull, revealing a literal extra layer beneath the surface, and challenging both the stability and the justness of the Kim family's situation.

As a class parable, Parasite is about as on the nose as it gets. The Kim family elevate themselves to the middle class through wiles and graft, but in climbing up they pushed others even further down, and for all their self-congratulation they are still viewed with disdain by the upper classes, easily sacrificed when it is convenient for their masters to do so.

Watching it again now the hype has passed it's easier to see why it was Parasite that gave Bong his international breakthrough - well, arguably that was The Host, but Parasite took it to another level. Bong has never been particularly subtle about his views on class, but by inviting us to view the Kim family as underdog heroes and to celebrate their moment of success with them, we become complicit. The second half of the film becomes a moral choice for the viewer.

In that context, and knowing that it was coming this time, the ending does seem more necessary, it is the final test... where do we stand?

Add to that the meticulous craftsmanship - that whole sequence from doorbell to basement to living room to flood is a cinematic masterclass with flawless execution.

I think it is deeply unjust that this was the first non-English film to win a Best Picture Oscar. Not because it didn't deserve it, but because there were plenty before it that did as well. Hollywood often portrays itself as the undisputed champion of cinema and does not easily acknowledge achievements it can't claim as its own. It is definitely noteworthy that Bong Joon-Ho managed to penetrate the protective veil in which The Academy enshrouds its members.