Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’ Joins 2019’s Top Social Commentaries
South Korean auteur, Bong Joon-ho, tends to lace his films with some of the most insightful social commentaries today. Apparently in 2019, that’s been the way to go for various filmmakers. But for Bong, he’s already made a career out of conveying these unsettling messages mixed with the occasional dark humor. His latest film, Parasite (Gisaengchung), encompasses years of signature observations while venturing into exciting new territory.
In South Korea, Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his family live in such meager circumstances. The family of four is cramped in their basement apartment, folding cardboard pizza boxes just to get by. Early on, one of the family members even shouts praises to the “free Holy Wi-Fi” they’re leeching off of. It’s nowhere near ideal living arrangements. They’re not complacent either, willing to take any necessary measures to move up the social chain. There’s a domino effect when Kim’s son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), is offered a position as a replacement English tutor for the wealthy Park family. Once Ki-woo proves himself as the educated “Kevin,” more opportunities present themselves within the lavish Park compound.
The initial act of Parasite might come off as repetitive as the Kims position themselves within the Park household. However, Bong is staging his pieces on the social chessboard with such precision. From the start, we view the Kim family as a band of ambitious, conniving con artists. But this canvas isn’t painted with just black and white. While morality is thrown out the window from the get-go, Bong is ask his audience whether we would also resort to such actions given the circumstances. On the flip side, we have the Park family, whose oblivious, yet overly pleasant nature stems from their privilege. Are they victims or accessories to an unbalanced system? Bong leaves that ambiguity up to the viewer.
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While Bong lays down immaculate groundwork in the first act of Parasite, what results later on is absolutely unpredictable. Parasite manages to weave in ample moments of dark humor, yet without a moment’s notice, crafts a scenario of breathless tension. Bong has hit some of those beats before in his acclaimed films, Snowpiercer and Okja. Here he’s simply at his career-best. It’s no surprise why Parasite took home the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Parasite is perhaps even more accessible than many of his previous works, though his layered messages aren’t compromised. That still leaves plenty to unpack from Bong’s auteur vision, albeit never overwhelming. In fact, the film’s duality is advantageous in not only to its accessibility, but its narrative as a whole.
Bong has a well-oiled thriller on his hands. Yes, both his direction and writing are razor-sharp for well over two hours. You simply do not want to take your eyes off the screen. Aesthetically, Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography ranks as one of 2019’s best. And there’s great praise for the ensemble of Parasite as well. Bong regular, Song Kang-ho, is mesmerizing as the Kim patriarch. His moment to shine doesn’t occur until later on, but there are a few scene-stealing moments. Cho Yeo-jeong is spot-on as Park’s giddy wife. She’s perhaps is affected the most, ignorant of changing social dynamics around here. If anything, she’s a by-product of that closeted, rich bubble. Jung Hyun-joon also excels as the Park’s eccentric and sheltered son. Everyone holds their own in Parasite’s class warfare and Bong’s script balances them all out rather nicely.
Bong’s crafted a masterful social commentary that isn’t locked down to just this particular place or moment in time. Parasite is here to stay and to be discussed about for many, many years to come.