By Brennan Atkins
Arts & Features Editor
By Noah Barnes
“Parasite” is the newest thriller by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, director of critically acclaimed Korean films such as “Mother” and “The Host,” as well as more recent American films such as “Snowpiercer” and “Okja.”
The narrative focuses on the Kims – a South Korean family suffering from severe poverty, as there aren’t many opportunities available. Even when they land a job, it doesn’t pay a sustainable salary to live on. At one point, there are workers fumigating the city streets and instead of closing the windows, the father said, “Leave it, we’ll get free extermination.”
The son of the family, Kim Ki-woo (Woo-shik Choi), is given a hard-to- refuse financial opportunity when his friend leaves to study abroad. He asks Ki-woo to tutor a girl in English.
The girl, Park Da-hye (Ji-so Jung), is from an extremely wealthy family that pays anyone working for them handomely.
This job offer seems too good to be true – as Ki-woo is fluent in English, and a higher-paying job is an absolute necessity. He is worried, as he doesn’t have a formal education, but his friend assures him that his English is advanced enough to teach, and he can fabricate any legal documents necessary.
What starts as a little white lie quickly spirals out of control when Kim’s family start scheming on how they can all get hired.
They abuse the Park family’s gullible nature, as they slowly begin to integrate themselves into the family’s lives – going as far as getting the old employees fired for the sake of their own wellbeing. The daughter is hired as an art teacher, the father is now a personal driver, and the mother replaces the longtime maid of the household.
The film does an excellent job of not having “good” or “bad” characters, and showing that humans are much more complex than that. The Park family is sometimes rude, and ignorant about the lives of the less fortunate, but that doesn’t necessarily make them evil. The Kim family’s actions can’t just be seen as objectively good ,either, as they are potentially ruining people’s lives.
It makes our moral compasses spin before we even get to the climax.
From there, the narrative turns utterly bizarre in the greatest way possible. Just when you think you’ve hit the apex of tension, Bong Joon Ho finds a way to drag it out even more. There’s something dreadfully entertaining about seeing how far the Kim family will go to keep their fake lives going.
It’s an exaggerated look at how people treat each other behind closed doors – how assumptions can turn into fact and lies fester into hate. The way the lies are dealt with throughout the narrative feels genuine – the anxiety builds up in the audience at any point the truth may come out.
Another interesting element of the film was the abundance of comedy. Comedy is used to make the audience connect to the characters, as well as build a realistic world around them. It feels much more like a real family this way, rather than them all sulkingand never talking, common in suspenseful movies. Much of the film’s first act consists of humor, and it works both as a way of easing tension in the moment, and foreshadowing future complications.
A scene that seems funny earlier in the movie may not be as funny once the movie is finished.
The soundtrack beautifully elevates the emotions already conveyed through dialogue and actions. Watching the Kim family execute their elaborate plan fits perfectly with the high tempo violin melodies. The music, composed by Jaiel Jung, comes off as poetic and free at times, but in the context of other scenes, feels sinister.
Scores such as these remind us how powerful a soundtrack can be – that music itself can give more context than an audience member may initially think.
Bong Joon Ho also shows that he is more than capable when it comes to visual storytelling. In one sequence, he uses rain visuals to show how radically different, each family has to live their life, due to their financial standings.
We see one scene focusing on the area where the Kim family lives, and it’s being completely flooded by the rain. The only dry place left to stand is on top of the toilet, and it doesn’t even seem like a home anymore. There’s dirty water billowing through the windows and it leaves a disastrous mess.
On the other hand, there is a scene in which the mother and father of the Park family are watching their son camp in the rainy front yard. They are lounging back on their white leather couch, surrounded by expensive-looking furniture, just happily enjoying their son have the time of his life.
These subtle ties to different scenes are very satisfying to connect and show not a single moment of the film is wasted.
“Parasite” was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes International Film festival, making it the first Korean film to ever receive the award – to make it sweeter, the vote was unanimous. Bong Joon Ho more than deserves this award for capturing nuanced human emotions that aren’t typically seen on the big screen.
Bong Joon Ho’s return to Korean cinema serves as his best film yet.
Just when you think it couldn’t get more suspenseful, it does.