"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."


This is a rare one for me: I saw PARASITE having no clue what it was about at all. Completely fresh. I saw the trailer 1 (one) time and didn’t understand what was going on. But I liked the three movies I’ve seen by director Bong Joon-ho (SNOWPIERCER) enough to just take the hype at its word and go see it. And since two of those movies (THE HOST and OKJA) are strange creature movies I honestly didn’t even know if the title was a metaphor or if there was also going to be an actual parasitic monster at some point.

Anyway it’s not a huge surprise twist movie or anything, but I enjoyed the lack of expectations. So I guess only read this if you’ve seen it or don’t care about that. (contains spoilers, mostly vague.)

It’s the story of the Kim family – father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho, THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD), mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik, TRAIN TO BUSAN) and daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam, THE SILENCED) – who seem to take economic struggle in stride. They live together in a cluttered basement infested by stink bugs, with a window facing an alley where they often see a drunk guy peeing. In the opening scene they discover that their neighbor added a password to her wi-fi, but they can connect to a nearby cafe if they crawl into the top corner of the apartment on the raised platform with the toilet. Which is important because they need WhatsApp to communicate with the young manager of Pizza Generation (Jung Yi-seo) who pays them to fold boxes.

Opportunity knocks in the form of Ki-woo’s friend Mink-hyuk (Park Seo-joon, THE DIVINE FURY) who wants him to take over his tutoring of rich girl Park Da-hye (Jung Ji-so, THE TIGER: AN OLD HUNTER’S TALE) while he studies abroad. His sister Ki-jeong is good at Photoshop and forges documents so he can fake a college education, and after the job interview with Da-hye’s mom Park Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong, THE CONCUBINE) he recommends Ki-jeong – pretending she’s only an acquaintance with a sterling reputation in her field – to be her weirdo son Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon)’s art teacher. She pawns that into a higher paying art therapist gig, and before long they scheme to have dad and mom replace the driver and the housekeeper (all pretending to not know each other).

There’s a whole lot of mischief involved. Brazen lies fly left and right. Innocent people are framed. An inappropriate relationship is formed. There is some shocking violence. Also some laughs and some sweet moments of quasi-friendship. It’s a masterfully told story that seems kind of crazy and random as it gets started and more and more intentional as the pieces fall into place. I love this type of writing where some little detail is mentioned, you wonder about it, you forget about it, and later when it becomes relevant there is no fucking way that would’ve been your guess.

(SPOILER EXAMPLE: We hear that Da-song had a traumatic incident when he was three – we had no clue it was seeing a ghost, and if we had, we wouldn’t have known that it was because the housekeeper’s husband has been secretly living under the house for years and once poked his head up at the wrong time!)

I won’t get into everything that happens, but it’s a movie about class – about people with money who think they’re nice to their servants and that makes them good people. I think one thing that makes it effective that that the Parks are, for the most part, nice people. They can be a pain in the ass, they tend to be self-absorbed, they can say mean things sometimes, but so can anybody. They’re hard to hate. They’re just oblivious. A more normal movie would be from their perspective and Mrs. Park throwing a birthday party would seem like a sweet moment instead of an opulent fuck you to another family in crisis.

And the Kims would be much better off with a little class solidarity. Not only do they steal jobs from people, but they then refuse an opportunity to help them out. In a weird way it reminded me of the end of Fargo Season 1 (spoiler for the end of Fargo Season 1) when Lester Nygaard could’ve gotten away with it but it insulted his ego that Lorne Malvo pretended not to know him, and he just couldn’t let it go, thus sealing his well-deserved doom. The Kims just had to help a brother out and everything would be fine. But they don’t do it. Even they look down on people in basements.

There’s an important theme of smell. Little Da-song notices that the Kims all have the same odor on them. At first they contemplate all using different laundry detergents in order to smell different, but So-dam says it comes from living in a basement. And her dad takes it very personally when he notices Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun, R-POINT) reacting to his smell. It’s just too much indignity for him, too much dehumanization. He doesn’t see a positive side to it like he did when the exterminators sprayed for stinkbugs and didn’t bother to tell them to close their windows.

Maybe this is too obvious to need stating, but both families are parasites. The Kims latch themselves onto the Parks to live off of their wealth, first through salary and eventually treating the house as their own while the owners are on a camping trip. But of course it goes the other way too, with the Parks latching onto the Kims to feed them, drive them, take care of their kids, clean their house, give up their time, their lives and (literally in this case) their identity for them.

PARASITE reminds me quite a bit of a great Japanese film I saw last year but didn’t review, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s SHOPLIFTERS. That’s another movie about a family who live and work together, who have unusual ways of dealing with poverty, who we follow and become attached to before the full extent of their moral violations are known to us so we can accept them as complicated human beings rather than have to classify them as good guys or bad guys to root for or against. We can recognize their flaws and poor choices but also their struggles, their yearnings, their complex circumstances. We can be mad at them without passing judgment on them.

For a South Korean movie of non-specific genre, PARASITE has been a giant hit in the U.S. I know a ton of people who have seen it in a theater and I haven’t heard of one of them who didn’t think it was great. It’s one of those rare movies that ignores all previously existing templates, but feels completely confident from frame one. You never quite know where it’s going, because as it reveals itself as one thing it’s always holding another thing behind its back. And it’s about something, sure, but that something is wrapped warmly in personality and humor and the small details of these characters and their world. Once again Joon-ho has created a movie with a tone that makes most of our country’s movies seem pretty flavorless by comparison. When all is said and done it’s a dark, fucked up and angry movie. But it’s so funny and likable as it strolls to that destination that it tricks you into feeling like it’s a fun time at the movies.

PARASITE is outta sight!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 4th, 2019 at 10:15 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “Parasite”

  1. It’s not a BIG twist movie, but I think part of the reason this has had such crossover (on top of reflecting contemporary economic anxiety) is that unexpected story turns happen all the way through it. One of the things I’m getting increasingly tired of with movies is that I’ll often enjoy their setup and then after the first 45-minutes I know everything that’s going to happen. PARASITE doesn’t have that automated approach to resolving itself and it feels fresh.

  2. ****SPOILERS I GUESS ****

    I was very impressed with how easily this movie moved from a light hearted kind of heist, or at least hijinks, movie to horror/thriller to scathing indictment of modern society and capitalism. All of those transitions were smoothly done. I do have to admit that I started to get a little bored when they were all getting drunk in the house. Maybe that scene could’ve been tightened up a little? But boy did it ramp up from there.

    I knew it was a movie that started out one way and took some turns. I was halfway expecting some kind of zombie outbreak from the bug spray. I wonder if that was at all intentional to be misleading.

    I wouldn’t say it was debated amongst my friends because we all came up with the same answer but someone asked if we thought he got rich and bought the house at the end. We all pretty much immediately answered no before she could even finish the question.

  3. For some reason this doesn’t open here in the UK until next February. I’m guessing that’s so it can capitalise on Oscar buzz, but it’s bloody annoying when it’s already such a phenomenon.

    That said, the sheer quality of Bong Joon-ho’s work and the fact that he has enjoyed such global success and recognition while making formula-busting, political movies foregrounding Korean speakers gives me hope for the world. Bring on that Best Picture Oscar!

  4. I loved this film, but I also loved SNOWPIERCER. Vern, your last paragraph is a great encapsulation of what this movie does so well and how it contrasts with so much else that is on offer. It’s a true work of vision as opposed to something that is merely fun or competent, but often derivative and safe and, hence, forgettable. The ideas have a staying power and resonance that is rooted in the filmmaker’s unique vision and freedom to go to unexpected places.

  5. Loved it. Love the consistent anti-capitalist theme in Bong’s last three movies.

  6. Some of the best Korean films do an abrupt high quality thematic swerve and this was no exception. I thought it was a great film.

  7. I did know a bit about it going in, and I thought it would have more suspense than I felt it did. But maybe my expectations were way out of line? Did it feel suspenseful to you?

  8. Glad you reviewed this one: it’s my favorite of the year so far and I think sneaks in my top 15 Korean movies of all time. Can’t think of another country that has consistently produced such high quality films as Korea over the last couple of decades, it’s been an incredible run!

  9. I caught this one sort of by happenstance in the summer before it was released in the US, and thought it was very good and very clever. I didn’t forget about it afterwards, but it definitely got pushed to the back of my brainpan.

    Then, holy shit, this avalanche of critical and audience hosannas for this movie called Parasite, all of them declaring absolute brilliance. I actually checked to make sure there wasn’t another movie named Parasite that wan’t the recipient of all of this. Nope, same flick, which leaves me a bit perplexed. I boiled it down to two options:

    One, since I went in absolutely cold, I wasn’t aware that what I was about to watch was supposed to be ‘great’ and therefore I failed to identify the ‘greatness’ (or it went over my head). Two, maybe it’s one of those movies where the more you seem to love it, the less you seem like a bourgeois jerk…

  10. I too had no idea what to expect going in. I just assumed it would be a horror movie but it’s honestly more of a black comedy than anything? The Kims came across like the Korean Bundy’s in that, though how they act is more or less wrong by society’s standards, you’re still rooting for them. They had great chemistry. The last third of the movie has some terrific physical acting reminiscent of the “A Quiet Night In” episode of Inside No.9 for those who’ve seen that show (highly recommended.) This might actually be my favorite movie of 2019?

  11. I concede that the social commentary here is a little obvious (Kurosawa didn’t need 10 minutes of continuous descending shots to get the same point across in HIGH AND LOW) but on the other hand, I can’t remember another film about class that felt as viscerally satisfying as this one. What’s the point of being subtle with an issue we already understand so innately, anyway? PARASITE captures such a vivid sense of what it’s like to be living on the margins — the self-hatred, desperation and simmering resentment, but also the sense of anarchic freedom and scrappy cleverness– that it doesn’t seem contrived or manipulative even when it manifestly is.

    Even better than its unsentimental evocation of its poor family, though, is its ambivalence towards the rich family. We’ve got plenty of movies about rich sadists, but this one makes a somewhat more interesting –even audacious!– case by making them blandly friendly rather than villainous. The problem with the rich isn’t that they’re thoughtless, though they can be, or that they’re venal and lazy, though they can be, or even that they’re undeserving, though they obviously are.

    No, the problem with the rich is that they exist. Every minute they continue to exist in their insulated little enclaves while the rest of us demean and exhaust ourselves trying to get by is an intolerable insult. It’s a simple understanding, but a profound one, and I think that’s what PARASITE has captured so perfectly, and why it resonates so strongly with people.

  12. Another great last paragraph. Nailed it, Subtlety.

  13. I loved this movie so much. As an aside from the thematic conversation, the filmatism in this one was just off the charts for me. I’ve never seen streets in South Korea framed and lit so cinematically. Some of the camera moves inside the house just really made me wonder how they pulled them off in the confined space. This movie is one I’ll return to for many reasons.

  14. I read that the house was built for the movie, so they must’ve designed it to make some of those moves possible. But I agree.

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