Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, Okja) writes and directs Parasite (2019), a darkly comic thriller. Bong and screenplay co-writer Han Jin-won explore the intersection of those on opposite ends of the poverty and wealth gap. Already awarded the Palme d’Or and six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, this film may seem like something that wouldn’t fit into the Haunted MTL canon. Impressions can be deceiving, however. Parasite is a ghost story and the specter is poverty.
Parasite follows the Kim family, a basement-dwelling family that struggles with poverty. Through the recommendation of a friend, the son ends up taking on a position as an English tutor for the teenage daughter of the wealthy Park family, lying about his qualifications. Soon enough, the rest of the Kim family, through manipulation and social engineering, end up ingratiating themselves with the Parks
The film stars Song Kang-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host), Choi Woo-shik (Okja, Train to Busan), Park So-dam (The Silenced), and Chang Hyae-jin as the Kim family; all chronically underemployed and representative of the 99% of South Korea. Lee Sun-kyun (Take Point) and Cho Yeo-jeong (Vampire Cop Ricky) play the parents of the Park family, the targets of the Kims. Lee Jung-eun plays the Parks’ housekeeper who becomes caught in the crossfire in a rather unexpected way.
Parasite is a ghost story in a few regards. Within the story, there is a supposed ghostly encounter relayed by a concerned parent. More to the point, though, is the specter of poverty that looms large. It looms over decisions, relationships, and vengeance that explodes by the film’s end. There are long term hauntings as well as haunted people, haunted by choices or inaction in startlingly equal measures.
There is a voyeuristic indulgence in seeing incredibly poor choices and the end results of those poor choices. I attribute it as being akin to cringe comedy. You are seeing something terrible yet remain compelled to watch. Parasite is a masterclass in tension, winding up the rubber-band of manipulation and scheming until it snaps. It snaps into such a satisfying series of emotional and violent circumstances. The film is also quite hilarious at times, with a particularly hilarious and awkward sequence involving several characters in hiding in the worst possible place and the worst time.
The performances are fantastic across the board, but special attention should be paid to Song Kang-ho as Ki-taek, the patriarch of the Kims. Song’s performance of Ki-taek is incredibly satisfying and he sells a fraying mind and betrayal with a simple look. Cho Yeo-jeong and Lee Sun-kyun are also equally up to Song’s level as the Parks, who create strong performances as a gullible and obsessive housewife and a charismatic but ultimately shallow businessman, respectively.
What Didn’t Work
In truth, the film is excellent and there is very little to find fault in. The film in many measures is a ghost story. When the twist happens (you’ll know it when you see it) everything clicks and things begin to spiral beautifully. I use beautiful, despite the rather upsetting and violent series of events that follow. There is beauty in the unraveling.
With that being said, I would have appreciated a bit more of the uncanny early on. The experience of Da-song’s “ghost” that has his mother so clearly rattled becomes an important plot point by the last third of the film; however, it is only hinted at about once before the explicit reveal. While I do not think that this was a mistake on the part of Bong Joon-ho, I feel like perhaps the ghost story elements might have been tapped into further.
Honestly, though, this is more or less just reaching for something to be critical over in a largely masterful movie. I suppose one could find annoyance at the number of unanswered questions left in the movie, but those will eventually be answered in the eventual television series.
Parasite is a film that is in equal measure bleak and hilarious. The film is a deft culmination of poor decisions that finally explode into violent catharsis.(5 / 5)
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