Parasite

Parasite ★★★★★

Bong Joon-ho's first fully Korean film since 2009's Mother is less a revolution and more an evolution of both his filmmaking style and favourite themes, yet don't mistake that for criticism as this is one the best films you'll see this year or any other. A recurring trait in Bong's movies is his focus on "loveable losers" that sometimes aren't quite so loveable, and the characters in Parasite absolutely fit into this pattern. As with The Host (2006) we start with another family of losers, the Kims, headed by Song Kang-ho in what is one more fantastic performance, but then again I expect nothing less from him. He's an unemployed driver who lives with his former hammer-throw champion wife, scam-artist daughter and son who has failed his university entrance exams several times. However the son does have a more successful friend who has a gig tutoring the daughter of an ultra-rich family, the Parks, in English, and asks his buddy to take over the role while he's studying overseas. This is his entrance to another world, and in another Bong Joon-ho trademark you won't be able to anticipate all the strange and shocking directions Parasite goes in from there.

The director's habitual blending of genres is also fully present and the film is a sort of black comedy thriller with elements of social satire and even horror. And the comedy is both smart in terms of dialogue but also physical and sometimes almost farce-like, particularly in one amazing scene. I also doubled over laughing at one character's impression of Ri Chun-hee, and if you don't know who that is look her up, it was an incredible moment for those who get it. Parasite's cinematographer also lensed 2018's Burning, and both movies are merciless in savaging the increasing wealth divide between rich and poor in contemporary South Korea. As Bong observed, a job such a private tutor might be the only time members of the opposite classes might come into contact with one another, so rigid is the divide. The Parks' house, a marvel of modern architecture, feels alienating and hides many things, while the Kims' cramped basement apartment is crappy but also homely. There's an incredible set piece with a rainstorm that wordlessly yet vividly depicts this uncrossable social chasm, what is beautiful to one group is tragic to the other. And apparently the poor even smell different, that is to say inferior.

Parasite is awfully close to a full five stars and may ascend to that upon re-watch, there's only a couple of minor plot points I'm not sure about as well as one moment that I did predict (because it was prettily heavily telegraphed in advance) that hold it a notch below masterpiece, but even with that this is an incredibly absorbing and thrilling film. Bong Joon-ho's work is universally admired, however after watching the over-praised Quentin Tarantino's good but baggy and massively self-indulgent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) a few days ago, I find myself appreciating Bong's tightness and control even more. As I noted in my review of Memories of Murder (2003) this is great directing that rarely draws attention to itself. The aim is to immerse you in the story, not show off with flashy camera moves and editing tricks. Parasite is supreme filmmaking art and if there's a better movie to come out this year I'll be surprised.

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