I had the chance to run into Bong Joon-ho at the Toronto Pearson Airport, and he was incredibly sweet and down-to-earth. My friend and I explained that while we hadn’t seen his latest film, Parasite, yet, we were big fans of his work, to which he politely replied, “thank you for watching my weird movie.” Although Bong was mistaken in thanking us for something we hadn’t yet done (this probably had something to do with him not seeming fluent in English, although perhaps I’m mistaken), he was correct in saying that Parasite is weird, and weird in an entertaining way.
The movie centres around an unemployed family who live in a shabby semi-basement home. Their situation improves once the son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) secures a job as an English tutor for the daughter of the rich Park family. One by one, Ki-woo will help his family members secure employment in various positions for the Parks by making them pretend that they are professional workers, and not just a bunch of people related to one another. All of this is done in a highly stylized manner that gives the whole film a quirky and surreal quality.
Parasite can be called many things. It can be called a dark comedy, or a satirical commentary on not just South Korean society, but the international globalized society as a whole. It can also be considered a gripping thriller. It’s a delight to watch with a crowd, as the many zany twists and turns are bound to get vocal reactions of disbelief and glee out of most audience members.
As usual, Bong Joon-ho’s shot composition is flawless. He revels in using the stunning set of the rich family’s large modernist mansion to create geometrically pleasing shots, and he fills these with dynamic portraits of his characters engaging in conflict and small-talk alike. The visual artistry goes into high gear in the long takes, where a bunch of action happens in one single prolonged shot. While such a shot could easily result in an incomprehensible mess, cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo pulls them all off flawlessly, creating incredibly fluid moments of character development, tension, action, emotion, and everything else you could wish for from an entertaining and thought-provoking film.
I don’t want to say much else in fear of spoiling a film that I think is best enjoyed unspoiled, but I will add this: while the film does have many layers in terms of social commentary, these layers are not smacked into the faces of viewers. I very much think that Parasite works in two ways: one, as an equally fun and tense piece of entertainment, and the other as a poignant study of the current relationships between different classes. These two levels are not contradictory, and, in fact, they go hand in hand. Parasite is a part of that rare breed of special films that can please both scholars and non-scholars alike.