Film Review: Parasite (Korean: Gisaengchung) Dir: Bong Joon-Ho

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Jang Hye-jin, Lee Jung-eun, Jung Ziso.

Parasite is the seventh feature film from the acclaimed Bong Joon-Ho, following on from Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), Mother (2009), Snowpiercer (2013), and Okja (2017).

For those familiar with the films of Joon-ho, Parasite continues to show the writer-director as a master of his craft, with this latest film further refining the slow-building sense of surrealist dread witnessed in The Host and Snowpiercer. While these films excelled at highlighting social issues and examining the fragility of humanity under extreme pressure, their science-fiction settings and themes formed an inescapable, relatable sense of good versus evil.

Parasite reunites Joon-ho with long-time collaborator and actor, Song Kang-ho, who delivers a flawless, restrained performance as Kim Ki-taek, the father of a destitute family living in a cramped basement apartment struggling to make ends meet. The film follows Ki-taek’s ambitious and resourceful son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), as he attempts to infiltrate a wealthy family under the guise of teaching their eldest daughter college-level English.

To discuss the plot any further would be in opposition with the wishes of the director, a justifiable request which to ignore would only detract from the viewer’s experience of watching the narrative unfold. To know the plot of Parasite beyond the synopsis above is equally irrelevant to what makes the film so undeniably moving and brilliant in its examination of social themes.

Parasite is a film about being human, the things we do to survive, the realities we create in search of synthetic happiness, and the exhaustion of the soul in living a lie. The decision to centre the film entirely in the realm of believability makes these themes – consistent in Joon-ho’s previous work – more painful, tragic, and moving than ever. Framed as a family tragicomedy, Parasite is both fluid and undefinable in its balance of dark humour and critique of humanity.

Although Parasite is a film that will stay with many viewers long after the final scenes, the viewer’s approach to the film will largely be relative to their understanding of the human condition. This isn’t a film that requires critical, highbrow thinking to relate to the pain, hope and comedy weaved throughout the razor-sharp script – it’s simply a film that requires the viewer to have looked beyond their own life, to contemplate the spectrum of human suffering and resilience in our neighbours.

A phenomenal score by composer, Jung Jae-il, envelops much of the film and furthers the sense of unravelling within our main characters, with performances that are nothing short of perfect. While Kang-ho is consistently brilliant and at his best in his layered role, the standout duo is found in Park So-dam as Ki-jung, Ki-taek’s daughter and Cho Yeo-jeong as Yeon-kyo, the wealthy, gullible matriarch of the Park family, who both create and deliver on characters that may have suffered in the hands of less-nuanced actors.

As the credits roll on Parasite, we’re reminded that the film is an examination of how we maintain our lies to protect those we love, the suffering we endure as humans to maintain appearances and ensure our survival, and how at the heart of all humanity there is hope – whether founded in reality or not.

Parasite premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it became the first Korean film to receive the prestigious Palme d’Or award, and will be released in New Zealand cinemas on June 27, 2019.

Oxford Lamoureaux