Acclaimed South Korean writer and director Bong Joon-ho champions the working classes in his movies, but unlike the naturalist filmmakers like Ken Loach or the Dardenne brothers, his work breaks out of the downbeat realms of reality into something more extreme. This can be said of his latest feature Parasite, which explores the social rebellion of the Kim family.
When teenager Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) poses as a university graduate to become an English home tutor, he seizes the opportunity to get in the good books of the student’s wealthy parents. Exploiting the trust of his new employers, he gets his crafty sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) a job as an art teacher for their young son, and soon the whole family become infiltrated in an act of deception.
A story of social stature told with treacle black satire, the stark difference between the two central family’s circumstances is illustrated by the juxtaposition of visuals. The Kim’s are living in squalor at a damp and dingy basement, making a pittance of a living by folding pizza boxes for a local takeaway whilst mooching the nearest Wi-Fi signal. In contrast, the Park’s enjoy a life of idyllic luxury in a slick, open-plan apartment. As the former latch onto the lifestyles of the latter, the narrative smartly twists from an offbeat comedy into a gripping thriller, building to an utterly jaw-dropping third act.
Aside from a couple of actors appearing in Joon-ho’s previous works, the cast will be widely unrecognisable on the Western front. That being said, the ensemble are experienced in Korean cinema and show great versatility in this genre-crossing effort. The standout performances come from Song Kang-ho and Park So-dam who play father and daughter respectively. With films of this outré style, it’d be easy for the emotional impact to be lost, but the acting provides pivotal tenderness and poignancy to the family drama.
Parasite is packed full of shocks, suspense, and wickedly dark humour, but the storytelling is perfectly streamlined by Bong Joon-ho. Rich in subtext and astute in its razor-sharp microcosmic study of class divide, it’s a compelling cinematic experience from start to finish.