Parasite (Gisaengchung) (2019) – Review
Director: Bong Joon-Ho
Cast: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo
by Alex Mair
‘She’s nice because she’s rich’. So says Ki-Taek, the father of a down-on-their-luck Korean family as they discuss their neighbours, the Park family. ‘It’s easy to be generous when you’re rich,’ shoots back his wife. This captures the central conundrum at the heart of Parasite, the Oscar-winning film by South Korean auteur Bong Joon-Ho.
Parasite is a Hitchcockian thriller about class conflict and inequality in the newly minted economy of South Korea which has eerie relevance for audiences in the West, beset by the triple woes of crippling inequality, populism and an out-of-control housing market.
First things first: If you have not seen Parasite, and intend on doing so, then stop reading here. The film is best enjoyed knowing as little as possible beyond the fact that it is a thriller about two families, and it’s about inequality. If that makes it sounds like an endurance contest rather than a film then fear not, because Parasite is an extremely rewarding watch.
It begins in a South Korean city and the Kim family are just about keeping their heads above water. They make pizza boxes for a living and remain indoors while a fumigation truck does its business in order to get a free bug dis-infestation.
“Entire plot unravels”
When the Kim’s adolescent son gets a job as an English tutor for the Parks, an upper-class family in the posh end of town, the Kim’s come up with a clever rouse to drastically improve their social situation. Needless to say, during the course of the film, the entire plot unravels and the whole thing falls apart bringing the two families down with them.
Director Bong Joon-Ho storyboards his entire films before day one of shooting, as Hitchcock did. Admirers of Alfred Hitchcock will recognise overtones of Psycho, the image of kitchen knives not going unnoticed. The astute viewer will recognise overtones of Kafka and, at a push, the early works of Ian McEwan like The Cement Garden and The Comfort of Strangers.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that Parasite is a worthy art film – in fact it isn’t. The tragedy of the Kim family plays out in a black-comedy-thriller-farce which holds the attention right up to its sad, downbeat ending and leaves one feeling completely satisfied.
But more than that, Parasite is a film about our times, about how we organise ourselves, and about how we live – specifically our abuse and neglect of the planet. As the UK battles its second storm in a week, the images of water in the film will have many pondering the wisdom the myth of upward social mobility long after the final credits have rolled, and we have left the Kim family to their fate.