Quick Hit: A beautifully constructed class commentary where everyone is parasitic in some form.
Bong Joon Ho is no stranger to social commentaries. He’s the director and co-writer of some terrific scripts, from the kaiju film The Host, the speeding train film starring Chris Evans called Snowpiercer, and even a movie we reviewed a while back called Okja. All his films share a sharp bite and a beautiful attention to the details that make the films feel alive. In combination with that, he somehow manages to avoid having true villains throughout the films, instead using his camera as a brush and his sets as a canvas to show that life is rarely so black and white. He may have made one of his best films in this year’s Best Picture nominated Parasite.
The film opens on a sub-basement apartment of the Kim family. They’re frantically trying to find a WI-FI connection that they can connect to without paying. It’s something that many of us have experienced (I remember my own horror when the neighboring apartment suddenly had a password and I was out my internet), but when framed as just one aspect within many, it’s a bit sad to see a family forced to fold pizza boxes as their only source of income. That all changes when Kim Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) gets a job through a friend as a tutor for English for a wealthy family. This starts with some light document forgery and an acting performance, and then suddenly, he’s recommending his sister (So-dam Park) as an art therapist for the wealthy Park family’s son. This continues until suddenly, the whole family is working for the wealthy Parks.
This sets up the first half of the film to be a bit of a crime drama, to be honest. There’s discussions on document forgery and what a quick Google can teach you about the impersonation of someone in a different career. There’s even a visit to a Mercedes dealership in order to learn more about the car in order to better impersonate a driver. It’s a lot of fun and you don’t really feel bad about it either because the family is mostly likeable. But it’s at the halfway point in the movie that the twists start to turn, and this film takes on a whole different light. It’s abrupt and shocking, and there are some genuinely chilling moments – Bong Joon Ho has never been one to shy away from gruesome or shocking material, and he doesn’t here either.
The film’s storytelling manages to really suck you into the plight, and somehow manages to keep everyone from being totally at fault. This is a system problem, Bong Joon Ho posits, and not a people problem. Here in this capitalist society, these problems exist; but the film doesn’t like the Communist existence to the north either, with multiple comments made in that direction as well. It’s happy with being a commentary on the evils of most societies as they exist.
The best performance in the film (in a film that is well-acted all the way from start to finish) lands with the role of the father, played by Kang-ho Song. He exhibits the full range of emotions throughout the film, and arguably has the largest character arc of anyone throughout the film. As we begin to see the classist struggle through his eyes (more and more as the film goes along), we feel his hurt and his pain, and very little of it comes across in the dialogue. It's nearly all in his performance, and I think the Oscars may have missed an opportunity to reward a non-white actor for the best acting nomination here.
Overall it’s a very well-done film, with the beautiful and lush setting of the Park household modeling the class structure that exists – with multiple floors and some deep secrets beneath. I was hooked within 10 minutes of the start of the film, and enjoyed it throughout. I’m giving it an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"