James Clay // Film Critic
TORONTO – Every once and a while you will come across a movie with reviews praising how masterful it is to see [X] filmmaker operating at the height of their powers – or, how we have never seen anything quite like it.
These statements can seem like a stretch sometimes, but they certainly check out with Bong Joon Ho’s latest stroke of eccentric genius, PARASITE. After you watch its contents scatter across the screen, you recognize why the Korean auteur won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. It’s a gloriously twisted story about class, greed, and deception. Bong Joon Ho’s film subtly morphs from a comedy and into a thriller, and (at times) it’ll dip its toes in the horror genre pool. There is no real way to put PARASITE in a box or even find a way to classify it.
Bong Joon Ho’s films are playful pieces that keep you inching closer to the edge of your chair with each passing minute. You cannot predict what he’s going to offer up. Literally, anything can happen. With PARASITE, the filmmaker attacks the notion of metaphors and breaks down the barriers to make a high-minded experience that is easily digestible and instantly rewatchable. While it may suffer from being overhyped by critics, it truly deserves every word of praise its getting and has coming. So make sure to check expectations at the door and take the film for what it is rather than placing the burden of expectation on its shoulders.
Living in a “semi-basement” under the shanties of Seoul is a way of life for the Ki family. They’ve made a life mooching and relying on their shifty cleverness. Bong opens his film with the family searching for a precious few bars of free Wi-Fi. The father, Ki Taek (Song Kang-ho), tells his family to take their phones across every inch of the apartment and “raise them high!”
The college-aged son and daughter Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-Shik) and Ki-Jung (Park So-Dam) are complaining about life in the basement. They want something more, but they are also comfortable with scavenger life. They engage in schemes like folding pizza boxes for pennies and letting the city’s pest control run-off fill their apartment with gas. There’s no way they’d pay to eradicate a pesky stink bug problem. But if they have to breathe in gas for a few hours, then it’s a worthy compromise.
Ki gets a tip from a friend that the wealthy Park family (Yeo-Jeong Jo and Sun-Kyun Lee) are searching for a new tutor for their teenaged daughter, Da-Hye (Ji-so Jung). Smooth as can be, Ki strolls in, charms the mother of the children (Jo) and lands the job. Most of the film is spent inside the Park’s state of the art modern home. Through the eye-popping images framed by Kyung-Pyo Hong (who worked on last year’s wonderfully shot film BURNING), we are swept up in moments filled with a serenity on the verge of disruption.
Once Ki gets his foot in the door, he and his family begin to infiltrate their lives under the employ of the Park family. It’s a treat watching the story take shape, never knowing which direction Bong is steering this zany ship. Like Quentin Tarantino, Bong is a filmmaker that delights in pleasing his audience with biting, if not silly, setups and payoffs.
Nothing should be said about the second act of PARASITE because once things take off, there’s no turning back for any of the characters. Seeing how this charade plays out is a delicious meal for film fans and general audiences alike. This is one foreign film that translates so well across counties with its universal brand of thrills. All and all, this is a film with a razor-sharp edge. It’s angry, it’s joyous, and – to keep it simple – it’s a ton of fun.
PARASITE screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will screen later this month at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX. The film will be released by NEON on October 12.