Parasite ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

For a while there during the second half of the ever-ambitious 80s we saw a string of comedies get released featuring protagonists who, because of their hunger to improve their lives somehow, grossly misrepresented themselves to the rest of the world. Girls became boys, nerds turned into cool kids, mail clerks passed as executives, whitey went black before he was inevitably kicked back. These films were (for their time) wild and occasionally outrageous but also a little predictable. You always knew the situation would invariably end up going south for the heroes and that in the long run their dishonesty would only come back to bite them in the ass. Bong Joon-ho's Parasite--which follows an impoverished South Korean family who out of desperation fake a variety of personal details in order to finally land jobs working for a rich family--may be considerably smarter, more stylish, and have more of something to say than all those other films, but it also has a few of the same trademark problems that they did.

If I had to come up with a broad term for films of this type, I'd classify them as "landmine movies". Essentially the film uses its protagonists' deception to lay down a bunch of landmines all over the story early on, and then just leaves you the viewer to watch and wait for a character to come along and step on one. You know where this is going, but you still want to see how far it goes (and how it gets there). You know there's going to be an explosion, but you still want to see how bad the damage is going to be.

One of the many things Parasite does that's interesting is how, like in real life, it omits showing all of its landmines being triggered promptly (as in during the film's runtime). Some of the problems you would think are going to explode during the movie never do, leaving you to wonder when they ever will. And then around the halfway point, the film makes an explosion so big it reveals an entirely new area of territory to explore…but in doing so let's you know the film is going to dive down into a darkness from which it will not be coming back (thereby taking even more surprise away from the ending).

If the film's tone makes it predictable for some, at least we're given a very rich subtext to chew on as we travel along, with the evergreen subject of class conflict right at the forefront. There's the condescending presumptuous naïveté of the upper-class as they are deftly taken for a ride by the hard-working street-smart (but not necessarily patiently book-smart) working-class. With the film commenting on everything from spirituality to American fetishization, imperialism, resourcefulness, Native American culture and the Boy Scouts…there's a lot to unpack here, and I'm sure film analysts will have fun doing so in the years to come.

I certainly enjoyed engaging with the film's ideas when I wasn't busy admiring its fine performances or competent technical craftsmanship, but regrettably there were also other aspects of the plot that resembled the pitfalls of those 80's switcheroo movies I mentioned at the beginning. Now while I do understand that lack of interfamily communication among the upper-class Park family is supposed to be a key story theme here, it struck me that the maintenance of the lower-class Kim family's lies depended far too much and far too often on that. Maybe for some people there was a lot of suspense in the idea that the family's deception could easily come crumbling down at any moment if the Parks were just a little more attentive to each other and their surroundings, but for me at least it felt a bit too plot-convenient and kept taking me out of the film (as did the scene where a bunch of glass containers of strong alcohol get shattered and yet the Kims are able to not only clean up every last bit of glass in a few short moments and without the help of a broom but are additionally able to magically make the smell of the booze instantly disappear from the air before a family of shoeless non-smokers enter the room? c'mon now).

Still, Parasite is a very good movie that I'm glad has found an audience outside of South Korea, and I hope both film distributors & exhibitors see its success as an indication that audiences are ready for more variety in their cinematic consumption. But I'm not sure I'm there with the masterpiece label that keeps getting thrown around. I'm starting to feel like everyone got bitten by the Parasite bug except me.

DBC liked these reviews