“PARASITE” from writer/director Bong Joon Ho has been gaining a lot of high praise while making the rounds on the film-festival circuit. It won the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes and as a fan of Korean thrillers I made it a point to catch it when it screened at the San Diego International Film Festival. The story centers on two families. On one side you have the Kim’s, an unemployed family living in a semi-basement apartment. They struggle to get by and fold pizza boxes to make a little money for food. Then you have the Park’s, a wealthy family that lives in a lavish home without a financial care in the world. When the family son Ki-Woo Kim gets a job as a tutor for the Park’s daughter he see’s an opportunity. One that will bring the Kim family some money, but also one that will entangle them in a much grimmer situation that will change both families forever.
Director Bong Joon Ho has tackled the concept of economic class separation in the past, most notably in his recent film “Snowpiercer.” So, I was confident he would use this story setting to capture that element effectively once again. I was hoping for a slow-burning, methodical narrative. One that would build a subtle tension leading to the inevitable closing from Bong as he hit his final message home. For the most part that is what it gave me despite having some drawbacks. I honestly was hoping for something a little creepier. And even though the slow-burn was well planned, I feel a faster pace could have resulted in longer stretches of intensity.
However, none of that hindered this from being a very well-written, acted, and directed thriller with layers of suspense and thought-provoking undertones. I thoroughly enjoyed the complete package this movie delivered. The direction and cinematography use lighting and shadows to their advantage to create that consistently ominous vibe you want in a genre such as this. This family quickly infests themselves into the lives of another wealthier family and it seems like an innocent con. Nothing that would create a subtly unnerving feeling at first glance.
But with Bong you know that will not be the case, and the anticipation of how this seemingly non-violent scenario will manifest itself was highly appealing. Admittedly this is the aspect of the film I would’ve liked seeded earlier on to kick the plot into gear quicker. But it still worked for the intended impact. Until this ramping up in the tension hits, there’s a slight uneasiness constantly swirling as the story progresses. Creating curiosity as character’s lives begin to intertwine, and the twists in the plot reveal themselves. It results in a movie that’s able to live comfortable in a few different genres which I found very enjoyable.
There were moments of grounded humor. Instances of sincere family drama. Strong exploration of class separation and the trivial things the rich worry about compared to the issues of living in poverty. It explores how these varying social issues impact the outlook a person has on life. As well as the temptations of maintaining pride. It also explored human desperation and emotional triggers that can come from such hardships in life. It captures the dangers of living in a world of money and the desensitization it can create to the struggles of people who live differently. This movie is able to compile all of these dynamics into a moody thriller, and it thrives with its intellectual ambition.
The cast was fantastic, and everyone fit the needs of their roles. The characters were well-written with the performances complementing that perfectly. It does a great job of creating a collection of characters that feel like real people, whom despite their eccentricities, maintained a grounded, realistic feel. There was an energy and charisma to the performances that never felt theatrical, but did help in building intensity during pivotal scenes. There isn’t a ton of backdrop to them, but the important factors are laid out and with the personality from the performers, there still is a valid motivation for each of them to invest in as the viewer.
From a technical aspect I think this was a beautifully crafted film from the direction to the cinematography, to the production design and over to the gloomy musical score. Everything blends just right to create a foreboding atmosphere that can keep the viewer on edge. Bong moves the camera about this mansion with a smooth flow and with looming shadows and minimal lighting there is a routine tension as something feels about ready to happen at any moment.
The musical score complements the scenes nicely and elevates the emotional responses without feeling overbearing. And with a gritty appeal to the production design outside of the lavish home, there is a strong contrast that captures the desperation of the Kim family from a visual aspect alone. It could have been tightened up a bit to remove a few lulls in the pace. And while it wasn’t as hard-hitting as “Snowpiercer” was, it still ends up being just as thought-provoking. With a layering to the story and a violently elegant delivery from Bong that I loved.
So, if you like foreign films, thrillers, or movies that can make you think a little check this one out. It’s a crisp film from a technical aspect, and with a blend of great writing and acting you can’t go wrong. It was a solid film that treats the audience with intelligence. And it lays out a structured narrative that is eerie, grim, and surprisingly not so far-fetched. I recommend tracking this film down at a local art-house theater or keeping it on your radar when it hits digital, because it’s certainly worth a watch.