When I first heard reviews calling “Parasite” the best movie of the year, I was hesitant to believe it. Having now seen it for myself, I can say one thing for certain: believe it.
The South Korean film, directed by Bong Joon-ho, was first screened at Cannes Filmed Festival in May, where it won top honors, then followed with a small theatrical opening in October.
At first playing only in a select few major cities, the overwhelmingly positive response to the film has allowed it to expand more and more. I had been semi-patiently waiting for it to reach Spokane for a while, so the moment my Fandango Fanalert notified me of its arrival last weekend, I made my way to the nearest theater as fast as I could. After all, no self-respecting film nerd can pass up on a 99% Rotten Tomatoes score.
“Parasite” is simultaneously weird, wonderful, shocking and heartbreaking. Even the most extreme adjectives can’t perfectly describe the experience of watching this movie.
In sparse details, as one of the most fundamental parts of watching it came from going in completely blind, “Parasite” follows the Kims, a lower-class family seeking a steady income. When Ki-woo, their teenage son, is offered a well-paying tutoring position for the wealthy Park family, he and the rest of the Kims attempt to weasel their way into the good graces and the payroll of the Parks.
A heartfelt comedy with a hefty dark side, “Parasite” explores a universal concept of classism. The film highlights the dogfight the Kims must endure to get close to the life they want and juxtaposes it with the Parks’ blissful ignorance of anything outside of their “perfect” lifestyle.
The foreign setting, language gap (it’s in Korean, with English subtitles) and general prestige might initially seem like a deterrent to the average viewer. But fear not, there’s not an ounce of pretentiousness in sight. Additionally, the story is so universal and the storytelling is so charming, that any assumption of a cultural divide I may have had, immediately dissipated.
Bong, who also wrote the film, has a subtle way of making every character both likable and suspicious; immediately trustworthy, yet not to be fully trusted. Every character plays an equally important role in the plot’s unfolding and the performances are all simple, powerful reflections of their respective arcs, especially by Song Kang-Ho as Ki-taek, the patriarch of the Kim family.
The more technical aspects of the movie just add onto its already phenomenal showing. The cinematography and music are remarkably beautiful, complementing the screenplay’s complex tone. Even the editing leaves an impression; every moment hits its beat in a perfect rhythm, leaving the viewer staring at the screen enrapt.
In spite of all the praise already shelled out, I’ve yet to mention the biggest stand-out of “Parasite,” which were the timely themes woven through its core.
The specific way “Parasite” lays out its truths about the nature of poverty versus affluence without ever having to be preachy is exceptional.
The comparisons between the Kims and the Parks, especially as the film goes on, get more and more blunt, inching the audience toward an inexplicable sense of doom as the Kims begin to reach closer to what their social status has deemed inaccessible to them.
Unlike many other movies that tackle classism, “Parasite” does not attempt to make you despise the rich characters or pity the poor ones. Instead, it acts as a third party, allowing audiences to judge the guilt or innocence of each character themselves. Of course there are purposeful meanings and metaphors scattered throughout, but there is just enough left off-screen, that we don’t have to be held to one singular view of Bong’s message.
If I had one critique, it would be that the shifts in narrative tone that the film executes aren’t entirely seamless. This truly seems like picking up a needle in a 40-foot haystack of artful cinema.
“Parasite’s” multifaceted take on the fight to live well and the cost to get there refuses to place itself in a single box. The result is a film in which the care put into production is evident, the director’s love for his profession is on full display, the story being told is quiet yet powerful and the audience can’t look away even if they wanted to.
It’s not often that foreign films from lesser-known directors get Oscar consideration, and even less often that these films achieve such widespread popularity. While it’s true that sometimes success favors the undeserving, “Parasite,” deserves the buzz.