A Review of Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE: Yes, Virginia…It IS a Masterpiece

It is never fun to have something hyped up to the point of it being almost impossible for the product to attain that status for yourself…and frankly, I may not be doing it any favors here. Nevertheless, I am going to say exactly what I feel: PARASITE lived up to the hype for me.

I also feel like PARASITE is a film that greatly benefits from knowing as little about it as possible going in aside from perhaps the barest general synopsis.

I have chose not to spoil anything in terms of the progression of the plot as I hope some of you will read this who haven’t seen it and be compelled to seek it out. I’m taking THE CRYING GAME promotion angle because that film gained a lot of notoriety for its secret plot twist which was bolstered by the likes of late film critic Roger Ebert: “See this movie…and then shut up about it”. For the record, the plot twist of THE CRYING GAME is just a small moment whereas PARASITE’s journey is a master class in how to completely upturn your movie in such a way that you marvel in how writer/director Bong Joon-ho set it up.

Let’s get the synopsis out of the way first.

We meet the fairly poor Kim family: the father Ki-Taek (Song Kang-ho), the mother Chung-sook (Chang Haye-jin), the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and the daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam).

They live in a semi-basement apartment while struggling to make ends up working various temporary low paying jobs.

When Ki-woo’s friend Min-hyuk plans to study English abroad, he both gifts the family with a Scholar’s Rock which legend says will bring them wealth while also telling Ki-woo that he wants him to pose as a University student so he can take over his job as a tutor for the young Da-hye, the teenaged daughter of the wealthy Park family. Min-hyuk is in love with Da-hye and feels that Ki-woo would be better for her than actual college boys whom he feels would take advantage of her…though one may wonder if perhaps Ki-woo’s poverty of sorts may make him seem like no threat to steal his dream girl.

Ki-woo, based on his friend’s recommendation, gets the job and manages to gain the affection of Da-hye. Then comes his master stroke: What if I can get my whole family to pose as sophisticated skilled workers and get them hired to work for the Park family?

We then watch through various schemes as the Kim family, acting as though they are unrelated to each other, usurp jobs within the Park household such as Ki-taek becoming their chauffeur, Ki-Jeong becoming an art therapist for their troubled young son Da-song, and with a little more resistance (and in a brilliant sequence involving a script written by Ki-woo and with the help of peaches), they manage to oust the long-serving housekeeper Moon-gwang so that Chung-sook can take the position.

With all of this set in place, the Kim family is now living in the lap of luxury. The Parks have planned a big camping trip leaving the house unattended so the Kims decide to take advantage and stay in the house and talk about how they are on their way to a better life….until a rainstorm and a visitor ringing the doorbell sends everything down the drain.

PARASITE is a movie with a message that doesn’t feel preachy and it is also a movie that manages to blend multiple genres so effortlessly that I think the film should be exemplary of how films can be more than one thing.

It is also a movie that knows how to move in terms of pace and rhythm as writer/director Bong Joon-ho is known for being very meticulous in story-boarding his films in the same way as Alfred Hitchcock loved having his films planned out as such…and this movie takes a lot of inspiration from Hitchcock while feeling very much of its current time…but it is done in such a way that I feel like this movie will stand the test time and be looked back upon with great admiration.

The cast is also quite remarkable with the standouts for me being Song Kang-ho, Park, So-dam, and Cho Yeo-jeong, who plays the matriarch of the Park family: Yeon-gyo. Considering these actors are basically unknown to most audiences outside of Korea (unless you were following Bong’s past films as he has frequently used Song Kang-ho), it kind of adds an extra dose of realism to the story that may not have been apparent to those who may have seen these actors a lot before.

As of this writing (January 2020), PARASITE is being seen as a dark horse in the Oscar race for Best Picture with the tides seeming to move towards Sam Mendes’ “one-shot” WWI epic 1917 and Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist take on events during the summer of ‘69 in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

I will be honest by saying I’ve not seen 1917 yet. It recently just got released into theaters so it has been hard for me to get to a screening but I HAVE seen Tarantino’s movie which, frankly, I find overrated and I would be displeased if it takes the top prize.

I’ve already expressed in another blog post how PARASITE is suffering from the stat that no foreign language film has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture and that it is even somewhat of a hurdle to actually get nominated. PARASITE could benefit from this underdog status in the same way MOONLIGHT did because it seems to have very few detractors which could help it on the preferential voting ballot at the Oscars (which it helps to get many votes within the top 3).

As it stands, it won’t matter if PARASITE loses the award. Most people won’t care and many probably will forget about wins the Oscars a month after they happen. The only thing I’d hope for if PARASITE wins is that more people would be compelled to see it which did slightly help MOONLIGHT after its big win overtaking the overrated LA LA LAND.

As I wind down here, I’ll try my best to express why I love PARASITE but it’s hard to do so without getting too detailed in its full plot…but I hope some of the vague descriptions will help intrigue you to see it.

There is a certain wit and a certain bleakness that manages to mix and match so beautifully in this film. The contrast of how certain events (such as a rainstorm) are seen by these two families come straight down to horrific consequences and first world problems…and it’s even more interesting when the horrific consequences are challenged by something that’s perhaps even more below the surface.

It all builds up to a climax that was staged and structured so perfectly that I was left in awe…and then an ending that felt so right for the journey we just went on.

I don’t want to spoil PARASITE. I will also repeat what I said in a Facebook status when I first saw the film back in December: “I don’t care if you don’t want to read subtitles. Go see PARASITE.”

The negative bias against not wanting to read subtitles has deprived a lot of people from seeing truly stunning films over the years and that even dates back to the world of Bergman and Fellini to name just two of dozens of auteur filmmakers.

The Academy Awards are certainly a “local” voting body as Bong Joon-ho recently said and he’s right. They don’t truly honor the best in cinema when they barely even acknowledge films from other countries (roughly a dozen foreign films have been nominated for Best Picture in 92 freaking years of the Oscars….that’s appalling).

PARASITE is a brilliantly written, directed, structured, acted, edited, designed masterpiece…and not only is it my favorite film I’ve seen this past decade but it is probably in my top 5 of greatest films I’ve seen since the turn of the new millennium…and maybe after I’ve sat on it more, I wouldn’t be shocked if it IS my favorite film of the last twenty years.

Hyperbole be damned.

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