Bong Joon Ho’s fiendishly clever new film takes aim at the issue of class, reflected in a tale of a family of criminals invading the home of a wealthy family in order to get ahead.
A family of grifters finds its perfect mark in a wealthy but very gullible family in a roller-coaster ride of a film by Korean director Bong Joon Ho called Parasite.
The Kim family—mother and father, teenage daughter and son—lives in the basement of a dirty, trash-filled slum apartment. We first meet them trying to figure out to get wi-fi after the network they’ve been using puts in a password. Right now they’re making money by putting pizza boxes together for a neighboring shop, a job they soon lose through incompetence. All four are profane, amoral con artists: the father is played by Bong’s favorite actor, Song Kang-ho, a big movie star in South Korea, whose marvelously expressive face is capable of farce, tragedy, and everything in between. Here he plays a gleeful conniver whose wife and kids compete with him to see who can pull off the cleverest con.
The son, Dong-ik, gets asked by a friend to fill in for him as an English tutor for a girl in a rich family, the Parks, while the friend goes on a year-long trip. Luckily for Dong-ik, the daughter falls for him. Finding out that she has a spoiled younger brother that the mother thinks is a budding artistic genius, Dong-ik recommends an art therapist for him named Jessica, who is actually his sister, but of course he doesn’t tell her that. Then they need to figure out ways to get the live-in housekeeper and the chauffeur fired so that Mom and Dad can join them and make more money off these hapless rich people, of whom the father is a complacent, self-absorbed business executive.
The first part of the film, where this whole situation gets set up, is played like a rollicking comedy, and funny it is indeed. But then things get even more complicated, with plot developments I don’t dare reveal, the comedy gets darker and darker, and is overlaid with horror and thriller elements, culminating in mayhem. Bong’s design proceeds with what seems at times to be haphazard reversals, but is in fact performed with rare precision. He is a social satirist, and this, more than any of his previous films, acts as a dissection of class as the reality underlying all the drama.
The obvious reason for naming the film Parasite is that the Kim family, at the bottom of the economic ladder, attaches itself to the Park family in order to live off their wealth. It’s only gradually, as the plot continually escalates to greater heights of tension, that we remember that the rich survive by living off the labor of the poor, including their servants and tutors and so forth. That Bong accomplishes this mirror image realization without a trace of either meanness or favor towards either side, is part of what makes Parasite amazing. The Kims and the Parks actually like each other. The forces that bring them together and blow them apart, are greater than either of them. And Parasite is such a powerful film that the audience doesn’t even know what hit them.