This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Andrew Harper’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
What Bong Joon-ho [1969-] crafts in “Parasite” is staggering insofar as the film’s layers continue to peel themselves back in one’s mind long after a viewing has finished. Importantly, “Parasite” is the sum of many parts—top-class architecture for the production design (courtesy of Lee Ha-jun), an editing job (from Yang Jin-mo) so well-paced that nothing feels superfluous, a tightly-packed script that’s timely-yet-timeless, a director in full command of his craft, and committed acting—which coalesce to a whole that lacks a serious weakness.
Want more than that? Alright. Let’s take it from the top.
On a surface level, the class rage pumping the blood of “Parasite” is emblematized by two things: the relations between the Kim and Park families and the architectural structure of the Park house. In the case of the former, reams of analysis can be unearthed from each step undertaken by the poor Kim family to ingratiate themselves into the favor of the wealthy Parks, but a crucial distinction made by the film is that being nice (and indeed morally-just) is a privilege not afforded to the poor. Such a stark hierarchy in class is further reflected in the design of the Park residence—a vertically-centered house with layers in every floor mirrors the sharp divide in class that the Kims and the Parks have at the outset. That the curvatures in the angular, lived-in yet sterile design of the house appear to play tit-for-tat with Bong Joon-ho’s camerawork certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Just when a viewer thinks they have the dynamics which fuel “Parasite” pinned down, the film throws the revelation of a hidden basement bunker where the Park’s former maid (Lee Jung-eun [1970-], in a performance that requires a believable shift of mood to keep the twist from being revealed too early) has been robbing food from upstairs to feed her starving husband (Park Myung-hoon [1975-]). One may initially consider this reveal as one which diverts the movie wildly off-course, but it instead results in Bong Joon-ho asking us the following question: “If there can be someone even lower than the lowest-class, than do the socially-imposed distinctions of class hold any merit to begin with?” The film itself implies that the only value such distinctions carry are for the oppressors to continue dominance. Which is why it appears so striking that the Park family appear as another family, albeit one better-off on the economic ladder—but not as strong of a family bond as that of the Kim family. However, “Parasite” also slowly begins to pile on subtle character flaws towards both the Parks and the Kims until it’s clear that no one in this film has an objective moral high-ground—ensuring that no two viewers will have the same interpretation of the carnage which unfolds at the film’s climax.
Before discussing that climax, it’s best that I discuss some of the acting in “Parasite,” as it’s unfortunate that none of the performances were nominated or anything in the major awards races. Especially considering that the film has some subtle acting which allows viewers a degree of verisimilitude. Perhaps it’s that element of verisimilitude which has in-part contributed to the international success of “Parasite.” And that despite the cultural-specificity of how the Park and Kim families are characterized, there’s an ‘x-factor’ which transcends cultural boundaries—allowing the film to break into demographics who wouldn’t ordinarily watch an international film. That verisimilitude also renders father Kim Ki-tiek’s (Song Kang-ho [1967-]), having to somewhat play against type since he has the reputation of an ‘everyman’ in South Korean cinema) descent into immorality all-the-more harrowing, makes son Kim Ki-woo’s (Choi Woo-shik [1990-]) idealistic ambitions at the film’s close register as naively-devastating, allows daughter Kim Ki-jeong’s (Park So-dam [1991-]) conniving personality to come across as the most morally-ambiguous character in the whole film, and permits mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin [1975-]) to appear as a welcome far-cry from a tied-down wife. Which ends up making the contrast between Chung-sook and Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong [1981-])—the constantly second-guessing mother of the Park family—an examination into one of Bong Joon-ho’s most-understated yet astute observations on the class distinctions of capitalism: the higher-up you are, the more rigid the gender codes are.
All of which factors into a full-on investment into the dynamics of both families regardless of moral shortcomings. It’s precisely that investment which renders the film’s climax a moment where it took a mighty effort for me not to yell “Holy shit!” in the middle of a theater crowded by middle-aged citizens. Because regardless of how one feels about Kim Ki-taek’s act of fatally stabbing father Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun [1975-], in probably the closest thing this film has to a ‘polite bigot’), the surrounding events—the housekeeper’s husband losing all grasp of sanity and attempting to massacre the Kim family (leaving the son in a coma and the daughter with a fatal knife wound) in the middle of a garden-bound birthday party hastily organized by the Parks for their young son (played by Jung Hyeon-jun)—escalate the slow-building tension to the point where that moment marks an eruption of all the class-based rage at the film’s heart. However, looking at the events from Park Dong-ik’s perspective (likely wants to get his young son to safety after he has a panic-induced seizure) and that of Kim Ki-taek (highly-stressed from having lost their home in a flood (itself a breathtaking setpiece) the night before and serving a rich family that’s willfully-ignorant of the damage incurred by said flood) illustrate that there’s no clear-cut moral victor in this act. While Park Dong-ik’s remark of how the newly-shishkabob’d corpse of the housekeeper’s husband reeks of poverty may seem innocent, it’s a similar remark to that made regarding the Kim family—one made with connotations of class-based bigotry. To make such a remark so flippantly in front of a father whose two kids are (for all he knows) dying on him is something the narrative tension would require some form of punishment, but the impulsive rage and stress of Kim Ki-taek leads him to murder. And the film registers all-the-more strongly for refusing to outright state whether Kim Ki-taek’s situation serves a suitable justification for his murderous act.
I’m fully-aware that these thoughts on “Parasite” can come across as rambling, but they’re essentially a barely-organized reaction to a first-viewing theatrical viewing—with only the time spent writing these thoughts down allowed as an opportunity to simmer. For a film this immediate, a normal review is a disservice. While I can one day do a more ‘proper’ review, these thoughts indicate that “Parasite”—even with one viewing—is an utter masterpiece. You better bet that I sparked an impromptu standing ovation in the rinky-dink old-school theater that I walked 20 minutes in the cold to catch this film—Bong Joon-ho crafted an instant classic with three words (“Eat the rich”) and such an achievement merits applause.