Bong Joon-ho presents an entertaining commentary on social issues, leaving you with laughs and more than few moments of uneasiness. The first half of the film lampoons the economic hardships of one of the film’s two central families: The Kims. One is however in awe of the family’s determination to escape their circumstances. The beautiful montages set to music of the family’s meteoric rise to, well, a basic living wage soon give way to something more sinister. Through the film’s many twists and turns though, Bong never loses sight of the humanity of his characters and the passions that drive them. The film is constantly grounded in the mad scramble for survival one faces every day even when the stakes for its characters rise higher and higher.
Much like Quentin Tarantino’s film from earlier in the year, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Parasite relies upon the sheer joys of seeing perfectly set-up Chekov’s guns firing off to twist the movie into wholly new directions. The set-ups in Parasite however are often more clearly linked to their narrative payoff. In one sequence, the Kim family plots their most daring move yet in a montage set to music that makes the best use of chili sauce in the history of cinema. Callbacks to moments in the past are numerous, however, and the film makes good use of them but in doing so we never lose sight of how these impact the constantly changing relationships and power dynamics of the film.
The film masterfully juxtaposes the characters to enforce their positions in the hierarchy. The Parks’ house is high above the ground while the Kims live in a semi-basement. Classical music accompanies the cheers as the Kims’ painstakingly executed efforts help them rise up, though not in the most ethical ways. The heavens open up and the rain pours down and into the drains as the Kims’ security from being at the bottom of the pecking order is suddenly threatened. It’s almost as if the ground falls from beneath their feet as a lower position is introduced. Three of the Kims must then escape in the pouring rain. In one scene on a steep wall of stairs leading back down to the Kims’ semi basement Ki-taek (the father) and Ki-jeong (the daughter) are running back down to their home while Ki-woo, the most fervent in his determination to escape the semi-basement, stands at the top, dismayed at how he’s just been forced to let go of his new found comfort.
The laughs cease by the end, however, as the blood starts to spill, ushered in by the chili sauce. Bong maintains a fantastical, fairy-tale approach that saves one from confronting the worst of it all, but Parasite explores a dizzying array of human behaviors and emotions that range all over the spectrum. The film is a masterpiece that offers pure cinematic joy at every turn as you’re left wondering what’s he going to pull off next. There is much more to write about the film, much more to think about, so much that could’ve been connected to something earlier that I didn’t see in the moment, but I sense Parasite is a film that will benefit from another watch. Although nothing can match the astonishment at seeing the film unfold for the first time.