There’s a “landscape rock” gift that gets featured early in the Parasite that sits very nicely as a metaphor for the film. It’s a harbinger of prosperity as much as a burdensome weight; physically, an elegant decoration that can also turn deadly. It never changes its state and doesn’t presume to be anything but a rock, but it is the people who hold it that gives it its value, meaning and purpose.
This mutable perspective is what gives Parasite its allure. Bong Joon-Ho’s seventh feature is a genre-defying opus, with plot turns that leaves one breathless and anxious, like rogue waves at the edge of a cliff. It is a sobering commentary on the tenuous relationships we have, as live deals us different hands.
Surprisingly, this narrative doesn’t emerge fully until fairly late in the film, and though peppered with deft script punchlines – Chang Hyae-Jin as the impoverished mother-turned-housekeeper Chung Sook sagely dispenses, “Money is an iron. It smooths out all the creases.” – Parasite never becomes a preach machine, but allows us an uncomfortably front-seat examination through a beautifully voyeuristic camera.
And how gorgeous the scenes play out on camera, handled by Hong Kyung-Po, cradled by an understated but outstanding soundtrack of pulled strings and piano. Tracking shots make the rich Park family’s house look like a stage on which their perfect life unfolds, while generous close-ups let us in on every character’s inner world and show us their emotional transfiguration and deterioration. This is best seen in the featured impoverished family that manipulates their way into the Park household, and each member brings something to the table. It’s easy to see them as scoundrels and yes – parasites – but their fierce loyalty and unfair circumstances provide room for empathy.
Song Kang-Ho as Ki-Taek, head of the household, is rich with complexity and his festering is a class act to watch. His daughter Ki-Jung (Park So-Dam) adds an icy sassiness that unexpectedly drives many of the motivations, and Chung Sook is a heavyweight in honesty. But Ki-Woo is a delight to watch. The impish and willowy Choi Woo-Shik evolves his character with such tenderness, it can best be described like someone ascending a spiral staircase – slow but glorious. As talented instigator and ruptured youth, Choi’s performance will leave many heartbroken, as someone who justs wants to make good his role as a useful son and future caretaker to his family.
Special mention also goes to Lee Jung-Eun as the fired housekeeper Moon-Gwang. Her limited screen time doesn’t dampen her charisma, and her agenda pivots Parasite on its heels and rapidly frays well-laid plans.
Bong’s writing is cutting and cunning, and pulling double-duty hasn’t distracted him in any way. In fact, it’s given him unique access to skillfully balance his storytelling both visually and verbally. Reducing the plot to just “a destitute family schemes their way into a rich household to make a living” would be a disservice, because this is one extravagant and nuanced vehicle. His other titles (Snowpiercer, Okja) have crushed the indigent under the heels of the rich, but Parasite evens out the field somewhat but is clear on its classism. How will this recalibration play out? One can only guess when it comes to the trickster Bong, but what a joy it is to be taken for a ride with him.
Just as it was introduced, our metaphor-rich rock finds itself left in presumably a stream near the end, where running waters will once again reshape the form over an arduous length of time. It is clear though with Parasite’s artful anger that Bong hopes our widening social gaps can be more quickly restored.
Poignant and incisive masterpiece from Bong. The class divide tale is as grim as it comes, and as unexpected a creature as it comes, and lingers under the skin.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com