An Jo on Parasite

On Bong Joon-Ho’s PARASITE

Mild spoiler alert

Many films have tried and finely executed the exploration of class difference in cinema, like the superb 1946 film ‘Neecha Nagar’,  or Raj Kapoor’s ‘Jaagte Raho’, and ‘Shree 420’; but Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE takes it to an altogether another plane! I am not saying this is better than them, but this truly is a marvelous marriage of visual mastery and writing, not to take anything away from some superb acting chops.

There is so much going on here beneath the film’s surface: The way it is shot and the way it is narrated, it throws-open class differences and the results/possibilities arising out of them as societies in general and humans in particular have to deal with, is truly a marvel and the maker deserves all the credit he is getting for it.

Suffice it to say, this is the story of a poor family [the Kim clan] that is living in a tiny apartment, eating, sleeping on the floor, and siphoning off Wi-fi from neighboring businesses or homes. The son, with the help of a friend, fakes his way into tutoring the daughter of a rich family [the Parks]. He then brings as a ‘chain’ of parasites, his entire family into the service of the Park family through fraudulent means, until one night, things go hay-wire with one of the former employees of the Park family comes visiting home  and a sinister secret is revealed: And then there’s the bloody climax, the one you were kind of knew was going to happen but didn’t know how.

I don’t want to reveal much of the story here but this is truly a genre-blending mix of black humor, thrills, suspense, and violence. How Bong manages it is a miracle! If you thematically read the film, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the title of the film is so befitting! Everyone feeds off of each other! The members of the Kim family feed on each other, then they feed on the Parks, the Parks rely on them to maintain their economic superiority in the societal hierarchy, and even the ‘poor’ parasite feeds off of one other! It’s so difficult – for me at least – to explain the visual brilliance and writing that explodes on the screen. In the first scene of the film, Boon reveals the lower class in Seoul when the father keeps the windows of his home open so that the public fumigation going on outside kills the bugs in their house – again, bugs, parasites. Then, he takes you and lets you explore the Park family with its vastness and cleanliness brilliantly and very contrastingly shot. [ You have a scene where a drunk  urinates every-day in front of Kim’s apartment block, and then you have the Parks’ with a view, where, literally, the sky has no limits visually.]It is interesting to note that Kim’s son has to go uphill to Parks’, and come home down-hill to his poor closeted home. The symbolism isn’t lost here: For a brief moment, the Kim clan can, maybe, just play a ‘guest’ role in the upper-class echelons, but down they have to come, to their marked destination. There’s an arresting scene when the son asks the Parks’ daughter, ‘Do you think I really fit-in here?’ It’s so impact-fully placed at a point in the film, it is stunning when one thinks about the film backwards. There’s even another scene where he wonders, when his sister is in the bath-tub and watching the movie, oh, she looks much like upper-class! The Kim clan’s exchanges having a drunken party at the Parks’ when the Parks go out for a family outing is so brilliantly written and enacted: Bong puts together everything in that scene! There’s comedy, there’s black-humor, there’s curses, but behind all these exchanges, there’s a brutal truth that’s being told. The way it’s told, is where the mastery lies and it leaves you bewildered. And in this scene, comes the most powerful, evocative piece of exchange between Kim and his wife. Kim says, ‘They’re rich but still nice’, and his wife pulls him towards her and says with an expression of worldly-wisdom at her disposal, ‘They’re nice because they are rich’!

At many points in the film, you might feel there are too many happenstances; but Bong miraculously pulls it off narratively and more importantly, visually. This is an astonishing achievement, in the sense that all the individual scenes that one might wonder about when witnessing as stand-alones, impossibly but beautifully come together as a composite affair. That is one hell of a task to accomplish.

In these days of hyperbole, I have stopped believing what’s being written about actors, film, hits, super-hits, stars, super-stars, and what have you: Because they have been bastardized so badly, unless I see the film for myself, I don’t give them much thought. But this one deserves all, and much, much more than the praise it’s getting.

11 Responses to “An Jo on Parasite”

  1. Great review, An Jo. I sort of felt Bong should have allowed the audience to spend more time with the Kims before they begin their “scheme” but otherwise I liked it very much. You a fan of Bong’s earlier films like Memories of Murder and The Host?


    • Thanks JC.

      I think that’s one of his quirkiest things: in a very short span he switches and brings about a tonal shift..unlike Tarantino who has a unique talent for a single but long stretched focus on a character merely through the talks..

      I haven’t seen MEMORIES OF MURDER. I will check it out if I can find it in the local library. THE HOST and SNOWPIERCER I liked a lot. I also haven’t seen MOTHER and OKJA.


      • Memories of Murder is extraordinary. Bong’s best IMO. I believe it is available on Amazon Prime Video in the US. Mother is very good too and features a phenomenal performance by the female lead. In general I prefer Bong’s Korean films to his international output like Snowpiercer and Okja.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. tonymontana Says:

    Excellent take, An Jo.
    This has been making a lot of noise everywhere. Any idea where I can watch it?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice review. I agree with most of what you said but I am less enamored by it. May be because, You hinted some of the story has many happenstances.

    Any comments on person in bunker and competitiveness to be be better than another poor ?


  5. Rangan on Memories of Murder.


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