“Parasite,” the latest from South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is a high point for the filmmaker. It’s an enrapturing work, wrapping the viewer into its machinations and never relinquishing control until long after the credits have begun rolling. It is a swiss watch and a film that announces its greatness within the first 20 minutes.
Kim Ki-Taek, (Song Kang-ho), is out of work, along with every member of his family. His son Ki-woo, (Choi Woo-shik), stumbles into an opportunity to tutor the daughter of a rich family. Through subterfuge, he is able to get his father, mother and sister employed by this family in different roles.
What is extraordinary about “Parasite” is the universal strength of every performer in its ensemble. The standout is Yeo-Jeong Jo as the housewife at the center of the Kim’s con. She connects immediately and is instantly believable as a gullible socialite.
On a technical level, “Parasite” is firing on all cylinders. The cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong, who photographed last year’s “Burning,” never misses an opportunity to mold every frame of “Parasite” into a work of true artistry.
The film is funny, but it juggles its humor with a sense of looming dread. You want the Kim family to succeed because they’re resourceful and the poverty of their situation is all too familiar, but there is a stench, a feeling that they do not belong in the roles they have forced their way into. The bomb under the table has been set, and the viewer is hooked, almost even implicated.
Ultimately the question surrounding “Parasite” is what Ho has to say about the class structures he is examining. The film is, at its core, about how poverty hardens us and how easily morality can be abandoned when faced with the prospect of more money. It is a film about facades and deceptive politeness. It is a film about symbiosis—the parasitic relationship between the Kims and the Parks is mutual.
“Parasite” is an unprecedented financial success for Ho, crossing $100 million at the international box office. Why things have worked out so well comes down to the film’s pace. “Parasite” moves quickly when it needs to and slowly when it needs to, and Ho never loses his focus or his grip on the audience as a director. Ho has been beloved for many years by cinephiles, since his 2006 monster movie “The Host.” His 2014 English language debut, “Snowpiercer” stands as his first foray into examinations of classism and is probably his best effort to date until now.
“Parasite” lives at the intersection between smart filmmaking and commercial filmmaking—it is as endlessly fascinating as it is accessible for people who have not seen many, or any, foreign language films. “Parasite” invites and encourages multiple viewings, and I could have watched it for ten hours. Ho has walked a dangerous tightrope with an ending that will leave everyone lost in thought long after leaving the theater and come out on top. He has created a masterpiece and one of the best films of 2019.