If your family is like mine, then the opening scene of Parasite where the various members of the Kim family scour around their family home in search of Wi-Fi will have you immediately laughing. It is a deeply humorous, extremely relatable moment that immediately sets the tone for the film as an insightful dark comedy looking at modern family and class society.
The plot kicks in when Min, a friend of the son of the family, visits and asks Ki-woo to takeover his duties as an English tutor for a young girl from a wealthy family whilst he is temporarily away. Ki-woo has no formal qualifications for the role so naturally questions his friend’s suggestion, but is reassured by the explanation of the situation. The Park family are extremely wealthy, with the mother of the house “simple”, easily gullible. Fooling her wont be a problem.
After successfully duping himself into the role of English tutor for the family with little difficulty, Ki-Woo begins to smell opportunities for the rest of his family also as workers for the Park family. This begins with him hiring his sister, unbeknownst to the Parks, as an art therapist from their son Da-song. The possibility of even greater opportunities grows and the Kim family cannot resist as they become increasingly engrossed, full-heartedly committed to the illusion that they are creating.
How can such an elaborate illusion be maintained? The Kim family debate the reasons why their deception has gone unnoticed - for such a wealthy family the spending of money must be relatively inconsequential. Furthermore, the intelligence of the Park family is repeatedly questioned, the mother and father make decisions for their children based on word of mouth and are happy to hear what they want to hear when it comes to educational decisions. Education, wellbeing, cleanliness, these are commodities to them which they purchase based on reputation like any other good, rather than something they have gained an effort to understand properly. Whilst their lives depend upon the hard work of the working class, families like the Kims continue to struggle to keep control over theirs.
Bong Joon-ho is no stranger to balancing multiple film genres, with films like The Host previously fusing comedy and horror. With Parasite, he manages to create a perfect mixture of comedy, drama and horror. As the first act of the film comes together we already begin to feel dark tension building. There is a feeling of visceral uneasiness that comes with every action, with each added layer of the complex plan feeling as if it is going to bring the illusion crashing to an explosive end.
The film picked up the prestigious Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes film festival, pipping Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to the award and in many ways there are parallels between the two fantastic films. Like Tarantino, Bong creates a biting screenplay combining dark wit with exciting twists and turns. Both directors have asked that details about the plots of their films remain secret as to not ruin the viewing experiences of those who have not yet seen them - this well adhered to policy by cinema goers is one that has definitely benefited my enjoyment of both films and one I am keen to respect myself.
Every scene is exquisitely shot, with dimly lit interiors helping build suspense and uneasiness. The plot largely unfolds at one location, the house of the Park family. Through Bong’s direction, the camera constructs a precise image of what the house looks and feels like, the different rooms and spacious interiors allowing the characters to carry out methodical plans and schemes in a way where surprises are maximised and the close claustrophobia of the setting intensified to an uncomfortable level. I was not surprised to hear that one of the films that Bong has cited as an influence is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. As soon as Marion Crane arrives at the Bates Motel there is a feeling of doomed inevitably about her decision to visit this haunted place whose walls seems to enclose a dark mythical power.
Parasite is rightly being recognised with a number of accolades to reward Boon’s fantastically ambitious vision. He is a filmmaker whose stories have seen him tackle numerous dark subjects in creative and captivating ways. Here is a film that with manages to have you laughing out loud, sitting gripped with suspense, and is able to constantly startle you with cinematic excitement in the way that truly great films do. An inspired piece of modern filmmaking.
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