Bong Joon-Ho’s last couple of films haven’t had the easiest ride. Snowpiercer had its release and edit butchered by Harvey Weinstein, while Okja provoked frenzied disapproval at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival thanks to its association with Netflix. Parasite, on the other hand, has had no such trouble. It won the Palme d’Or, is already an international box office success, and has been hailed as a masterwork by seemingly everyone who’s seen it. Thankfully, it deserves a lot of this success, a twisty, breathless, and wildly entertaining spin on class war that never goes the way you think it will.
A tale, at least initially, of two families in very different circumstances, Parasite follows the efforts of a poor family, the Kims, to infiltrate the homes and very lives of their more fortunate counterparts, the Parks. Their plan starts with son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) and daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park) forging qualifications to get jobs as tutors for the Park children. Confident and psychologically canny, they soon have complete control over the kind but daffy Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo), a stay at home wife whom the Kim kids convince to hire their parents Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) and Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang).
All of this is done under the deception that the Kim family are just casual business acquaintances, and to say any more about how things play would ruin the delicious fun Bong has teasing out the ever escalating madness of his plot. Parasite retains a capacity to shock and surprise until the end, Bong using everything in his arsenal – from class commentary to outright horror – to keep you guessing and in suspense. Though it takes a bit of time to get going, and some of the plot twists seem utterly absurd once you look back at them, Parasite features some ridiculously tense set-pieces, and the eruptions of bloody violence are all the more shocking for being so rare.
The blackest of black humour runs through Parasite, which is frequently very funny even as something horrible is taking place. Everyone is under constant threat, whether they know it or not, and the cast all do a great job of inhabiting this insecurity, especially the Kim actors, who have to hold together facades under even the most unbearable pressures. Each of the Kims know deep down that their scheme can’t end well, especially as their resentment of the Parks grows as the families further entwine, and the flickers of desperation and anger are extremely effective.
Parasite is impeccably well-designed, from its gorgeous deep focus shots to its incredible use of geometry and geography. Flash floods caused by torrential downpours take on an immediately graver importance as the Kims head home from the Park house – every step of the way is downhill (both literally and metaphorically), and we know that their flat has surely caught the worst of things. Meanwhile, the Park house is gorgeously chic and sleek, and once bloodshed descends upon it, every angle and hidden corner that Bong so carefully shows us becomes a potential threat. He loads his most spectacular action with incisive political statements in this superb, metaphorically weighty thriller.