Parasite ★★★★★

My Top 100 Favorite Films - #45

I finally had time to check out Bong Joon-ho's newest film, Parasite. A film I had rather expectations for, especially after seeing the reception it has gotten recently, both here on Letterboxd and among professional film critics. Bong Joon-ho has built up a rather solid track record with me, as films such as Memories of Murder, The Host and Snowpiercer all being impressive outings from him. Parasite is Joon-ho at his best, and it is easily my favorite film of the past year.

Parasite is about the less fortunate Kim family consisting of father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam). They are all making ends meet by working temporary jobs for low salaries, but one day, a friend of Ki-woo's presents him with the opportunity to become an English tutor for Da-hye (Jeong Ji-so), the teenage daughter of the wealthy Park family. After faking his way into the job, Ki-woo slowly and steadily ensures that his entire family gets hired by the Park family, but things take a turn for the darker when we eventually find out what's going on in the Parks' basement. The plot of Parasite can best be described as if the cast of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia actually managed to succeed with one of their malicious schemes, but then they all end up getting dragged into a serious Hitchcock thriller with a hint of the social commentary you would find in John Carpenter's They Live. It should therefore be no surprise that I ended up loving this film as much as I do, but there's more to it than the connections to other works I already liked beforehand.

Bong Joon-ho's direction excels here. We start with straight-up farcical comedy, only to patiently progress towards a tense thriller with elements of dark comedy and social realist drama. As we are presented with a tightly-paced plot and characters who are all within moral grey areas, regardless of what social class they belong to, we see an excellent and compelling criticism of capitalist ideals. The ideal meritocracy that many people still connect with capitalism is torn to shreds, as we instead see that progress within a capitalist society can only happen through a network of dubious reliability and blind trust in people who have to give away their identity to have a taste of high life. The entire cast deliver great performances, as everyone shows great restraint and humanity in both their line delivery and visceral acting, with the always brilliant Song Kang-ho as the father of the Kim family probably being the standout for me. His growing contempt for his situation, and the indifference of the Park family, is brilliantly performed here, mostly by his livid facial expressions that are contrasted by his more calm manners of speaking. A truly captivating performance here.

There's a cathartic sense to the rise of the Kim family, even though we also see the tragedy of what it cost them to arrive where they happen to be in a tragic sequence including a massive flood. It is in scenes like that where I also have to praise cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, who also worked on Burning and The Wailing. Kyung-pyo's emphasis on tight spaces in the Kim family household, shown through some great creative blocking, and the wide, open spaces of the Park mansion perfectly encapsulate the widening gap between the rich and the poor in societies where capitalism has run rampant. This gap in wealth is also beautifully accentuated during the aforementioned flood, where the beautiful vista of a rainy, full-moon night at the Park mansion is contrasted with a terrifying tracking shot from a bird's-eye view on the neighborhood where the Kim's live, where people and dogs are struggling to survive. Striking images that will stay etched in my memory for a long time.

In conclusion, Parasite is a film I can see myself returning to several times and it has everything I could ever demand of a film of its kind. To me, it is the best film in Bong Joon-ho's filmography, and one I can only give a high recommendation. While I admit that I'm not sure it will appeal to everyone, it is hard to deny the excellence of the cinematic craftsmanship on display here. Just go watch it!

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