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Bong Joon-Ho’s ‘Parasite’ Is One Of 2019’s Most Essential Viewings – Review

Bong Joon-Ho latest film gained traction for being what most described as a wild ride into class warfare. Mainstream audiences would soon know the about Parasite after it won the most prestigious award at the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or. Given his superb filmography, no one ever doubted Joon-Ho’s ability to deliver anything less than great, but is Parasite actually on par with the sky-high hype?

In truth, the film blows any possible expectations out of the water. No amount of praise can truly prepare someone for their first watchMany will argue that this is Joon-Ho’s crown jewel of a film. Although this may be true, the better argument to be had is that Joon-Ho has created one of the most essential viewings of the year (if not the decade). Current times are inspiring many films to tackle complex social and political themes. Parasite stands high above many because it legitimately delivers layered themes not only with ingenuity but also with tasteful flair.

The Kim Family. Courtesy of NEON

The film follows the exploitations of the Kim family. The low-class South Korean family lives on the edges of poverty and have adapted well to the struggles of living off what they can get day by day. However, their living situation is not on par with their true potential. The cunning skills of survival they have mastered has built their levels of intelligence surpass any other lower-class family. When opportunities working for the high-class Park family become available, the Kims slowly infiltrate their livelihoods in an effort to climb the economic ladder.

The less one knows heading into the film, the better the experience will be. Just from the short synopsis above, one can get an idea of why the film is called ‘parasite’. One may be getting their thoughts on the right track but the enthralling narrative gives the title a new meaning by the end of the film. In most other contexts, commenting that a movie feels like it is actually two different stories in one comes off as negative. In the case of Parasite, this is easily one of the film’s strongest attributes.

Ki-jung “Jessica” Kim and Ki-woo “Kevin” Kim. Courtesy of NEON

Joon-Ho has seamlessly established himself as a true craftsman of genre filmmaking. His filmography already boasts a great variety of genre from crime drama to sci-fi. He takes his talents to new heights with his latest work by accomplishing the rare feat of blending different genres organically. At the basis, Parasite is a dark comedy. The topic of social hierarchies can get dark really quick, but Joon-Ho taps into the underlying comedy within the harsh realities. Then, the film finds a way to morph into a thriller. Hilarity is then traded for high levels of suspense. Instead of feeling uneven or unnerving, one’s interest in what is unfolding deepens.

These two tones would be at odds if they were not weaved together by relatable character drama. One’s investment is almost toyed with throughout the film. Joon-Ho’s dynamic filmmaking keeps one always guessing and never feeling too comfortable. Just like the Kim family, the viewer is constantly adapting to the story as it unfolds. Just when one thinks they know what the final outcome is going to be, Joon-Ho flips the narrative on its head. Even if the film proves to be against one’s tastes, the absolute last thing they can say is that they were bored watching it.

All of this greatness is carried by an excellent cast featuring the talents of frequent Joon-Ho collaborator Song Kang-ho, Park So-dam, Choi Woo-shik, and Cho Yeo-jeong. The script demands a strong ensemble and the cast delivers leaving no weak link. The subject matter is heavy and may even be potentially distasteful mixed with the genres at hand. This can be even worse if portrayed under the wrong mindset. Thankfully, the cast and leadership behind this story poise enough competency to pull off a dark suspenseful comedy about classism, and the depraved actions one takes to survive.

Mrs. Park. Courtesy of NEON

The incredible work by the cast and filmmaker results in a sociopolitical film that actually has something to say. One will be quick to notice that duality is a recurring theme at play. The story follows two families, each with one father, mother, daughter, and son. The two families display two are on opposites sides of the economic spectrum. This duality sheds light on the fact that conflicts within social hierarchies are easy to understand, but difficult to untangle. Not everything is in black & white.

It is within the grey that Parasite shines. The best films make audiences question not only their characters, but themselves as well. Parasite presents two sides to a conflict and the viewer will never choose to stay on one side throughout the entirety of its runtime. Which side one chooses to gravitate towards and when they do will lead to further questioning within themselves. Questions such as what is right or wrong? The war on-screen will turn into a war in a viewer’s head. By the end of the film, Joon-Ho establishes a channel of possible resolutions using the unseen grey areas. Someone as brilliant as Joon-Ho knows that he cannot put a viewer through all that conflict without getting to a specific point.

The Kim Family. Courtesy of NEON

The genre-bending mind fuse that is Parasite demands to be seen in a theater. Arguably one of the most thought-provoking films released all year. The fact that it manages to blend dark comedy and suspense while also being accompanied by unforgettable crisp visuals (cinematographer Hong Kyung-Pyo is the MVP) makes it stand out from most films released within years. It is hard to imagine anyone walking away from this movie without having questioned something about themselves. One of the many effects of a masterfully crafted film. Yes, different people have different opinions, but calling Parasite anything short of fantastic is criminal.

Score: ★★★★★

Parasite is now in theaters.

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