Review: Parasite is a bold film in the January wasteland

Zach Dirksen — Staff Writer

January is considered something of a wasteland, filmwise. It’s a time for studios to release their less-than-bankable stock in the hopes that viewers desperate enough to brave the cold weather for a movie will pay no matter how bad or unimpressive the product. Put bluntly, there are no new theatrical releases that interest me enough to warrant a full review. Thus, I’ve decided to catch up on a 2019 movie I really wanted to see but couldn’t until now.

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Parasite is a South Korean thriller/comedy/crime caper/family drama/class satire. That wild mix of genres is mostly thanks to the film’s director: Bong Joon Ho. Bong’s been making insane, genre-bending movies since 2000, first in his native Korean, then in English. His two English language films, Snowpiercer and Okja, garnered critical praise and cult status among international audiences. (Both are on Netflix, check them out!) Bong Joon-Ho followed up these two successes with a return to South Korea, releasing Parasite to near-universal audience and critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival last summer, even receiving Cannes’ top prize, the Palme D’Or.

The film follows the destitute Kim family, a group of unambitious and unemployed citizens of an unspecified South Korean metropolis. The family, resigned to a half-basement apartment, fold pizza boxes for menial pay and leech off their neighbors’ wi-fi. That all changes, however, when Ki-woo, the Kim’s college-aged son, is referred to the rich Park family as an English tutor. Ki-woo, struck by the luxury in which the Parks live, orchestrates for his sister, under a fake name, to be hired by the Parks as an Art Therapist to their young son. Then, through the Kim children’s machinations, Mr. and Mrs. Kim are hired on as the Parks’ new chauffeur and housekeeper, all under false names.

Thus, the Kims and the Parks live in a peaceful, symbiotic coexistence, the gullible Parks blissfully ignorant to the Kim family’s deception. It seems like the perfect plan. But no plan is entirely foolproof. Just as the Kims find themselves comfortably in the lap of luxury, an unforeseen series of events threatens to violently upend their newfound lifestyle.

That’s all I can safely say about Parasite without completely giving away the movie’s plot. To write anything more would be to ruin it. Parasite starts as a fun crime film with a unique family element, but morphs into something entirely different. By the film’s end I was stunned, shocked, and enthralled by what I had witnessed. Parasite is one of the most entertaining and engaging films I’ve seen in a very long time.

I think part of that comes from the humility of the film’s presentation. Compared to Bong Joon Ho’s previous work, Parasite initially seems staid and familiar. The world of this film, seems, for better or worse, exactly like our own. Even obvious cultural differences between South Korea and the rest of the world are downplayed, giving the film a universal appeal that lulls the audience into a false sense of security, only to completely throw them for a loop at the best possible moment. The shadows begin to grow darker, the lighting becomes eerie and uncomfortable, and we see just how much precarious everyone’s position is.

The best part is that all this works incredibly well. It’s so easy for a film like this to fall apart under its own ambition, but Bong has carefully chosen each detail, so much so that nothing seems dysfunctional. Nothing feels particularly out of place or jarring. Even the most unexpected plot events are dynamic and keep you guessing.

Parasite has been getting a lot of Oscar buzz, particularly for Best Picture, an honor that few foreign-language films are afforded. I tend not to care much for Awards Season, as films I often enjoy most are overlooked or altogether shunned in favor of safe, predictable fare. Yet, I can’t help but root for this film to bring home some gold on Oscar night. It truly deserves it.

If you haven’t seen a foreign film, or don’t particularly like them, I can’t recommend Parasite enough as an ideal entry point. It’s funny, unpredictable, and intense enough to keep even the harshest skeptic on their toes. If you can handle subtitles, you can handle Parasite. Regardless of language, it’s a bold film from a consistently interesting filmmaker, and one that I cannot recommend enough. Although it’s no longer in theaters, Parasite is now available on VOD, DVD, and Blu-Ray.

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