I’m not super familiar with foreign-language films. I’ve watched about 10 on my laptop, but that’s pretty much the end of it. But at the end of the day, a great movie is a great movie. And the Korean film “Parasite” is definitely a great movie. All of the awards it has received and excitement it has generated are completely justified. “Parasite” is an all-inclusive package that manages to defy all expectations without sacrificing any of its overflowing quality.
Bong Joon-Ho, director of “Parasite,” is a fairly well-established name. His previous works, particularly “Memories of Murder,” “The Host” and “Mother” were highly regarded by critics and audiences alike. His foray into English cinema, “Snowpiecer,” featured stars like Chris Evans, Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton, and was very well-received as a diversion from the typical American action movie. And it is that same diverse style that shows through in “Parasite,” a genre-bending film that somehow manages to pull all of the best elements of film into one extraordinarily cohesive whole.
Despite coming out of festivals and starting with a very small American release, “Parasite” is far from the typical awards-season independent film. Those films are completely deserving of all of the recognition they deserve, but Bong’s latest work shines in a way that maintains the same level of artistic ability while presenting it in a package that is both compelling and genuinely funny. It’s a very difficult balance to strike, but it’s done seamlessly in this movie.
The film essentially follows the story of two families: the extravagantly wealthy Park family and the Kim family, their destitute counterpart. After the Kims’ son takes a job as an English tutor for the Parks’ daughter, a complex scheme begins to emerge. It’s difficult to say much more without spoiling some of the more exciting elements, but I can definitely tell you that the plot is endlessly entertaining. As the relationships between characters become increasingly complicated, Bong slowly and organically builds a sense of tension that explodes in the last act of the film. The director infuses some of his characteristic curveballs, but they are done in a way that does nothing but intensify the events on screen. Twists, particularly the huge, “Sixth Sense-esque” revelations, can often distract from the rest of the story, but Bong handles his story with a level of precision that prevents the audience from ever disengaging with the film.
All of the more technical elements are equally impressive. None of the performances stand out as a dramatic tour-de-force, but they’re all completely convincing, especially in the context of the film’s varied tones. The actors clearly understand their roles, which allows the character dynamics to flow naturally. Given that the film is built around families, those dynamics are extremely important, and they’re executed to perfection. The visuals are also excellent. Bong’s style is subtle, but his use of perspective and scenery adds to the themes and emotions without ever feeling intrusive. The landscapes are particularly interesting, as they’re built not just as backdrops but as literal representations of the families’ defining traits.
If I had to point out any flaws, they would mostly pertain to the film’s fairly overt themes. They are established early and constantly reinforced, which can be a little overbearing at times. That being said, I was never really bothered by any of those moments, simply because they were captured in such a unique way.
In the end, “Parasite” turned out to be exactly what I expected: an outstanding piece of cinema. My column in the September edition of Lake Views described some of the incredible hype around this movie, and it lived up to all of those expectations. I would strongly encourage everyone to go and see it while it is still in theaters, especially if you’ve never ventured into international cinema. There is truly something for everyone in “Parasite,” and I hope that everyone gets to experience it for themself. 9/10