by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Bong Joon Ho
Cast: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 99% Certified Fresh

PLOT: Ki-taek and his family, all unemployed, take peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks, as they ingratiate themselves into their lives one by one.

Watching Parasite reminded me of the first time I saw Pulp Fiction.  I told my friends that it was like being on a roller-coaster at night wearing a blindfold: you have no idea where you’re going or what’s coming, but the ride is exhilarating.

That’s Parasite.  The hype is real.  This is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and if you plan on seeing it, I would highly recommend you do so BEFORE reading further.  I have no plans to spoil ANYTHING, but the less you know about the movie before going in, the better.

(You’ll have to bear with me, I’m writing this shortly after seeing the movie myself, it’s currently 11:14 PM, and I’m starting to get a little tired, but I want to get this all down before I pass out, so it may get a little “rambly” for a while.  You’ve been warned.)

Parasite is many things.  It’s a social commentary, a black comedy, a family drama, and a Hitchcockian thriller all rolled into one delicious Korean dish.  (The film and filmmakers are Korean.)  The beauty of the movie is that it manages to be all those things without losing track of itself.  I can’t count how many movies I’ve seen that attempted a tonal shift in the middle or at the end, and it just falls flat.  Where lesser movies failed, Parasite succeeds.

The plot involves a nuclear family, the Kims (father, mother, college-aged son and daughter), living in near-poverty in a sub-basement.  They fold pizza boxes to make a little cash.  They steal wi-fi from a shop next door.  When fumigators spray outside their street-level window, they open it wide to take advantage of the free pest control.  They aren’t starving, but they are desperate.  Yet they don’t appear to be beaten down by their condition.  They’ve become a family of hustlers, not in any criminal manner, but in ways that enable them to get by on the bare minimum until one of them can get a leg up.

Opportunity knocks one day when a friend of the son, Ki-woo, gets him a job as an in-home tutor for the high-school daughter of a wealthy family, the Parks.  Ki-woo changes his name to Kevin, then suggests to Madame Park that her 7-year-old son could use an art tutor.  This gets his sister, Ki-jung hired.  She changes her name to Jessica and finds a creative way to get her father hired as Mr. Park’s personal driver.  Then the Parks’ long-time housekeeper somehow has to be eliminated so the MOTHER can get hired.

Before long the entire family is working for the Parks, though it’s important to note the Park family has no idea their new employees are all related.  This is all done with great humor, not in a farcical way (that will come later), but in such a way that you find yourself rooting for this down-on-its-luck family of con artists to finally get a taste of the good life.

There’s a long scene where the Parks have gone camping, and the Kims gather in the enormous living room of the Parks’ lavish home and just sit and eat and drink and talk and get drunk.  This is the family drama/social commentary part of the movie.  There’s something a little sad about seeing these people who are like any other people, who seem no less deserving than the Parks, but their best-laid plans have come to nothing, and the highlight of their lives is to get hammered in somebody else’s house.  Suppose Kevin falls in love and decides to marry the girl he’s tutoring, when she’s a little older.  Who will they get to be his parents?  Will they need to hire actors?

Trust me, I haven’t spoiled ANYTHING.  Swearsies.  This movie is brilliantly, ingeniously split into two parts.  The first half is prologue.  The second half is genuinely, literally breathtaking.

Something happens that forces the Kim family to examine and re-evaluate their life choices up to the present.  It also forces them to do some very fast thinking indeed, which is where some of the funniest and darkest comedy takes place.  This is where the movie really takes off, where it had me reminiscing about the twists and turns in Pulp Fiction.

And nothing…nothing can prepare you for the finale.  About which I’m saying nothing.  Again.

From a cinephile’s perspective, Parasite is miraculous.  It manages to be several different things all at once, allowing you to savor every individual aspect of it without any one part of it overpowering the other parts.  The screenplay is unbelievably inventive.  The direction is sure-footed and masterful.  The acting is pitch perfect throughout.  It made me think, it made me laugh, it made me cringe, it made me say, “Oh S#i+!” MANY times, and it made me bring my hand to my mouth like a shocked Victorian-era woman many, MANY times.

I say again.  The hype is real.  You owe it to yourself to see this movie whenever you can.

[Ed. note: the Criterion blu-ray of Parasite contains an interesting experiment: a black-and-white version of the film, which is apparently how the director originally envisioned the film, and which might account for its stark imagery in places.]

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