Parasite, Bong Joon-ho’s homecoming to Korean cinema following his respective international tenures, Snowpiercer and Okja, is a brilliantly crafted cinema experience, pushing forward the director’s renowned prowess in the art of narrative and his constant social justice rage to the border. It’s an uplifting yet bitter family tragicomedy blending a twist of home invasion trope with social commentary and stark thriller. Without any doubt, this is Joon-ho’s thick blood-and-flesh creation, switching genres effortlessly to bring awareness about the cause that the director cares about.
On the surface, Parasite revolves around a poor but versatile and smart family living in a cramped half-basement. Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), the father, lives with his wife, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), and his two children, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and Ki-jung (Park So-dam). Fans of the director’s filmography will immediately notice that the movie breathes similar air as Joon-ho’s 2004 movie monster, The Host, or a little further, as Hirozaku Koreeda’s Shoplifters. Presentation-wise, the tragicomedy takes a more grounded-to-reality compared to some of the directors’ widest known movie; it’s more realistic like Mother or Memoirs of Murder. The social commentary that Joon-ho tries to convince is on the surface; the titular parasite is even a literal parasite; and he even made it a clear with an event in the movie. Ki-woo keeps saying that a scholar’s stone gifted by his friend is so metaphorical; but, it never is. Strictly following the Chekov’s gun rules, the stone serves its purpose, not in a metaphorical sense but a literal sense, although differently. Same goes the plot of Parasite.
Kim’s family utilizes any available resource to help them with their life to the extent that the begin ‘parasiting’ other people, including sucking up Wi-Fi connection from the nearby establishment. The turning point of the narrative is when Ki-woo goes out with his dandy old friend, who gives the family a scholar’s stone. The friend is moving overseas and recommending Ki-woo to replace him as a tutor for a teenage daughter of a crazy rich South Korean mogul, Mr. Nathan Park. Soon as Ki-woo breaks through the crème de la crème society, he begins seeing contingency to leech the rich yet simple family with a scheme involving his whole family.
Joon-ho’s narrative flows effortlessly, unraveling the movie’s titular parasite and letting the audiences deducing the information. It begins with an exhilarating move to another; every step of the scheme is aptly constructed, detailing how Kim family injects themselves to the opulent world of Park family. It’s all amusing and satisfying to watch until it’s not; once the parasite scheme unfolds, uncomfortable anxiety has begun crawling to our guts. There’s where Joon-ho displays his prowess in the art of narrative: folding one genre, putting a twist on the genre-tropes, forcefully yet cleverly convincing the audience with the message he emphasizes, and bending the whole genre characteristics with anything necessary to make the irony even more bitter.
Joon-ho blatantly delivers the social commentary about social stratification with an image that is literal and, while the movie often gone into full of absurdity, plausible. One family is on top of the pyramid while the other is, literally, at the bottom of it. In Parasite‘s third act, the director goes even further establishing a literal hierarchy with a parable that almost makes perfect juxtaposition with Jordan Peele’s Us. While the story is full of twist on particular genre-tropes, Joon-ho seems to hold the story dear with clever narrative structure, without slipping to some cheesy plot twists. The structure makes way for the socio-normative study of the society through the use of the characters.
Approaching the end of Parasite, the exhilaration erupts with signature blood-gushing thriller, but let’s not confuse it with some distraction. It’s a culmination of the rage that has been hold down for the longest time. Picture it as the climax of French Revolution toned down into domestic calamity. At such point, we can agree that, in Parasite, angry Bong Joon-ho illustrates his restlessness towards social gap with a thought-provoking, family tragicomedy that does not look like anything you’ve seen before. It’s funny, ironic and thrilling deeply at the same breath.