Parasite: Don't Let Anyone Spoil Bong Joon-ho's Terrific Film For You


Parasite is an odd beast of a film to review as the sort of movie that you want to tell everyone to see but can't tell them much else about it. That's been the experience of pretty much everyone who's seen the movie. It unanimously won the Palm D'or at Cannes, and was a runner-up for the Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice Award; it stands at 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and broke the record for the highest per-screen box office average for a foreign language film in its opening weekend. The hype is real, and the only thing stopping more movie lovers from seeing it is the slow roll-out of its limited release.

Writing yet another recommendation for Parasite, you run the risk of sounding like a broken record, saying the same things as everyone else about the film being both great and about how wrong it would be to spoil the plot. Everyone else, however, is right: It is great, and you don't want it spoiled before you see it.

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Here's what you can know: Parasite is Bong Joon-ho's return to smaller-scale Korean-language filmmaking after the international epics of Snowpiercer and Okja. If you've seen those, you know that Bong has a dark view of modern society and an unorthodox approach to tone. His films veer from funny to serious to downright strange. Sometimes they can be too strange for some (what on Earth was Jake Gyllenhaal going for in Okja?), but those who get on his wavelength love the ride (his biggest fans call themselves the "#BongHive").

Grounded in the real world without the science fiction elements of his English films or his kaiju comedy The Host, Parasite is one of Bong's easier works to get on board with. That doesn't mean the places it takes you are any less intense.

The set-up, as far as the trailers explain, involves an impoverished family, the Kims, scamming their way into jobs working in the household of a wealthy family, the Parks. Dealing with the Parks' problems while keeping up the con artistry is fraught with enough risk. That's not even getting into the secrets being kept in the household.

What can be said about the back half of Parasite is that it's a tense and unnerving provocation, without sacrificing the moments of comedy. Is it a horror movie? Not exactly, but only because it's so hard to pin this movie now to any particular genre. Think along the lines of a Coen Brothers movie with a Hitchcock-esque Gothic edge to it. However you define it, you won't forget it.

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You'll also be thinking about its implications for a while. It's impossible to look at Parasite and not think it's saying something about capitalism and class conflict, but it's not as bluntly obvious with any message as Snowpiercer or Okja could be, even if it comes from a similarly radical perspective. It gives you a lot to think about, with no clear heroes and extreme moral ambiguity.

Trying to assign blame to individual characters or their actions is a fruitless task; everyone is at least somewhat guilty, but it's really the system above all that is at fault. It's a metaphor, and the film has a lot of self-aware lines about metaphor. Still, the situations are so messy that trying to pare it down to a single thesis would be reductive... unless, perhaps, if that messiness is itself the thesis.

Parasite is playing in theaters in select cities.

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