Throughout the latter half of 2019 one movie has been on everybody’s radar. Of all the big screen efforts that have amazed over the course of the year the South Korean release “Parasite” has become the must-see movie in the eyes of many of the industry’s top critics worldwide with many even calling it the best film of the year. Up until recently I never had a chance to see this movie for myself, but after driving an hour away to finally experience “Parasite” I can see what all the buzz is about. Director Bong Joon-ho’s newest film became the first South Korean picture to win the Cannes Film Festival’s coveted Palme d’Or and the first unanimous winner since 2013 leading to an international release that took the industry by storm. I finally got to see it just before the year’s end knowing that if I didn’t at least review it, whether I liked it or not, I couldn’t consider myself a truly dedicated movie buff and amateur critic. So, let’s see if “Parasite” is really the masterpiece everyone says it is. Let the review begin!
Yes, it is as good as everyone says it is. “Parasite” is a very unique film with an inspired premise, well crafted script even in its translations, and its all brought to life through a slew of performances that capture both the beauty and tragedy of the story. For those who don’t know, “Parasite” is about a family of four who conspire to become the employees of a wealthy family and leach off of their money without being found out as members of the same family. Thus they become the parasites of the title in an attempt to escape their meager existences. This story lends itself well to so many different themes and even genres to the point where while “Parasite” is mostly a drama it’s almost genreless. The ignorance of the wealthy family is comedic yet believable. The suspense of the family’s attempt to remain undiscovered adds some thriller and horror elements, and there’s even some hints of classic mystery and tragedy stories incorporated as well creating what was, for me at least, a very unique and engrossing experience. Possibly one of the most enjoyable and unpredictable cinematic experiences of the entire year in fact.
The direction and commitment to the craft with this film is amazing from almost every angle. Every shot feels like it was done with purpose. The set pieces are perfect to represent the differing lifestyles of the two families. The pacing is near perfect. The acting is convincing and layered with all kinds of humanity and personality depending on the character. Director Bong Joon-ho proves that he is a master of his craft with this film providing a piece of cinematic art better than most American films tend to be. It’s so well balanced with subtle soft moments that drive home its emotional core to bombastic ones that imbue it with energy and put you on the edge of your seat. One moment you’ll experience a tender family conversation and the next you’re just hoping they won’t get caught in the act. “Parasite” felt like a great popcorn drama thriller but also has the unmistakable flair of an arthouse epic with possibly its only real flaw being that it neither panders nor conforms so it’s not always easy to understand exactly what you’re supposed to take from the film which will be frustrating for many seeking a more straight forward cinematic experience. This is not a movie for those who want to simply be entertained. It demands so much more from you and offers just as much.
Beyond the smaller details is the larger picture of what this movie is trying to say and it’s quite possibly one of the most poignant messages of 2019. This is a movie about class disparity, where a group of lower-class citizens take advantage of the wealthy to survive in a world where they feel left behind. However, we are never told who to support. It’s never implied who is right or wrong. Who are we supposed to agree with and who are we supposed to hate? We never really know. For every moment that makes us feel bad for the parasites we’re given something to make us question if their actions are justified. A few twists and turns in the second half of the film double down on this storytelling tactic by providing genuine consequences for the poor family forcing them to decide what they want to do next. The viewer, in turn, must also decide if their actions are worth the struggle. This makes the story complex. It makes it challenging and that is what a movie is supposed to do. It’s supposed to force you to think outside the box, to understand that the world and situations aren’t cut and dry. “Parasite” does this so well that it really doesn’t have a hero or a villain. It has no straight forward good or bad guy. For every redeeming quality of one character there’s something about them that makes them detestable. For every good intention their a consequence you can’t ignore.
But the film’s themes go even BEYOND that. One of Bong Joon-ho’s favorite concepts to tackle in his films seems to be climate change, something he incorporated into “Snowpiercer” and “Okja”, both excellent films themselves. The climax of the movie is set up through a rainstorm which effects the rich family much differently than the poor family. For me it was also probably an unintentional jab at trickle-down economics, the idea that if the rich stay rich the money will flow down to the poor and balance things out. Even if that were a fact what trickles down is not as glorious, beneficial or even helpful as what the rich enjoy at the top and yet can you really fault the rich for living like the do? It is their life and success after all. Once again class division becomes a central part of the story, but in a different way and one that you may not even notice unless you appreciate what lies below the basic surface. Yet if you choose to just look at the rainstorm as simply a weather event it’s still a significant part of the story because it pushes the poor family over the edge emotionally leading to the events of the final act. It’s these kinds of details that make Joon-ho such a great director. He has the ability to find a balance between social commentary and simple narrative structure without compromising his vision. He is able to give us something entertaining but also something significant. Whether you examine the movie on the surface or go a little deeper every detail fits in to drive the plot forward. It’s because of this that I’m comfortable calling “Parasite” a masterclass on meticulousness and precision in filmmaking and storytelling.
“Parasite” is, quite simply, an amazing movie and one that deserves to be appreciated even by those who aren’t quite looking for that artistic flair in their choice of films. It’s a fascinatingly detailed and haunting narrative that’s so unique, so engaging, so well scripted and acted, and so well filmed that its virtually perfect in every way and for me is right up there with likes of “Joker” and “Avengers: Endgame” for most satisfying film of 2019. There’s so much we can learn and take from this film which tries so hard, and succeeds on so many levels, to capture the humanity and tragedy of its character’s lives and how the separation of class serves as a primary driver for all of the conflict. It’s uncomfortable, it’s entertaining, it’s engrossing, it’s epic, it’s subtle, it’s slow but never feels like two hours…it’s the very definition of the full package and certainly deserves to be considered among the best if not being called THE best film that 2019 has had to offer. These are the kinds of landmark movies I started this blog to draw attention too. I’m just sorry it took me so long to finally get the chance to see it for myself.