A work at once engaging, provocative and highly individual.


Cho Yeo Jeong


It may still be early in the year but this film by the Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho which has already become a major awards contender is surely destined to be one of the most acclaimed releases of 2020. In addition to directing, Bong is co-author of the screenplay and Parasite is a great example of story-telling. It may last all of 132 minutes, but the film holds us throughout with its crystal-clear narrative and engaging dialogue perfectly delivered by a really well chosen cast all of whom realise that this needs to be treated as an ensemble work. However, the neatest touch of all is quite possibly the way in which the film adroitly changes tone just about halfway through.


Initially, Parasite is centred on the Kim family, the father and mother and their two children, a son and a daughter, now grown to adulthood. They are not well off and live in a cramped basement but all are keen to improve their lot and in this regard they are both ambitious and unscrupulous. It is the son who, taking on the name of Kevin, leads the way by grasping the opportunity to take over from a friend to become a tutor for Da-haye, the daughter in the well-heeled Park family. Through manipulation Kevin is soon introducing the other members of his own family into the Park household - in the case of the mother that means taking over from the existing housekeeper who is made the victim of a set-up designed to get her sacked.


The first half of Parasite is straightforwardly engaging as we relish the con-games being played. Indeed, given the class issues involved, what we have here is a thoroughly adroit social comedy. In contrast to this the film’s second half becomes altogether more fanciful and extraordinary in its narrative, but this works because it takes on the form of a parable or fable. That offers a different angle on the theme that runs through the whole film, the division in society between the haves and the have-nots and where that is leading us. The change in style adds to the weight with which this subject matter is being treated although not every viewer will easily make the adjustment required. In effect, though, the film becomes not so much more melodramatic but more stylised and my only doubt relates to the way in which it reaches its conclusion.


The film avoids making the Parks into figures to be reviled yet it seems likely that it is seeking to assert the view that the extremes of wealth and poverty in the world are bound to lead to violence. That may be a valid view, but the twists and turns of the narrative as the film builds to its climax are too individual to make one feel that the story’s outcome transcends the personal and individual to represent a compelling universal statement. That makes one question if this exceptionally well-made and highly individual work is quite the perfect masterpiece suggested by many reviewers, but that it is an outstanding and remarkable piece I have no doubt at all.


Original title: Gisaengchung




Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo Jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Chang Hyae-jin, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun, Jung Ziso, Jung Hyeon-jun.


Dir Bong Joon-ho, Pro Bong Joon-ho, Jang Young Hwan, Kwak Sin-ae and Moon Yang Kwon, Screenplay Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin Won, Ph Hong Kyung-pyo, Pro Des Lee Ha-jun, Ed Yang Jinmo, Music Jung Jaeill, Costumes Choi se-yeon.


Barunson E & A/CJ Entertainment/TMS Comics/TMS Entertainment-Curzon Artificial Eye.
132 mins. South Korea. 2019. Rel: 7 February 2020. Cert. 15.