It is rare for a movie to effectively combine cinematic fireworks and social commentary. It is even rarer to do it in such a thrilling and mischievous way as Korean filmmaker Bong-Joon-ho’s home-invasion drama Parasite (ICA), which also has the distinction of being the first foreign movie to win Hollywood Oscars for Best Film and Best Director.
The film follows the hard-up Kim family: cunning teenager Ki-jung (Park So-dam), her sweet-natured brother Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) and their parents Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) and Ki-tack (Song Kang-ho). They live in a squalid ‘semi-basement’ flat with cramped rooms and pilfered Wi-Fi, scraping a living doing odd jobs like constructing pizza boxes. The touchpaper is lit when Ki-woo fakes his CV and starts tutoring the daughter of the wealthy, somewhat unstable, Park family, by pretending to be a qualified teacher. The Kims infiltrate the opulent family home, one by one, serving the Parks for a steady salary that relies on the lie that they don’t know each other and aren’t related. Of course this pretence can only be maintained for so long.
On paper the Kims’ poverty reads like any kitchen-sink drama, and at times the story does sway treacherously against the family, despite their aim to make a better life for themselves. Against this stark background, however, Bong’s key players shine brightly, imbuing their circumstances with playful charm and a wry wit. It’s an impressive ensemble effort from the central cast, but Park’s measured, deceptive juvenile and Song’s wary, yet worn, head of the house are the film’s real standouts.
This is, in fact, a poetic tragi-comedy about wealth, greed and class discrimination, themes which are not rammed home but drip-fed into the story, the ruinous effects of the imbalance between rich and poor slowly taking their toll on the family. Our infiltrators may have just swapped one basement trap for another but can you ever leave the past behind?
Bong is a master at combining drama, laughs and farce, allowing moments of pure terror, quiet observation and baroque noise to sit happily alongside each other. It never jars as it glides from one state of being to the next.
In all then, this tense, unsettling and beautifully shot movie emerges as a delicious fun-poisoned cocktail of dark humour, social satire and perfect set pieces that grips you from start to finish.
A deservedly Oscar-lavished poetic tragi-comedy about wealth, greed and class discrimination.