Bong Joon-ho is back with a dark, spiky and hilarious social satire about the seductive nature of greed.
It’s often said that money is the root of all evil – in actuality, the Bible verse (Timothy 6:10, if you were wondering) is more specific: “the love of money is the root of all evil”. Bong Joon-ho certainly seems to agree with the sentiment: most of his films reckon in some respect with elements of capitalism and class warfare. After two English language films (Snowpiercer and Okja, which played in Cannes in 2017), he’s returned to his native language for another parable about the seductive nature of greed.
Parasite is a tricky, scary little beast of a film. A tick that burrows under your skin and settles in for the long haul. On the surface it’s a black comedy about family dynamics and the gig economy. When we first meet Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and his family, they’re scrambling around their basement flat trying to find some free wifi they can use to check their WhatsApp messages for a potential job offer.
They catch a break when a friend of Ki-woo’s puts him forward for a tutoring job with the wealthy Park family, but that’s only the start of things. Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), his wife Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) and their children Ki-jung (Park So-dam) and Ki-woo are gold-standard scammers, hatching a plan to get their hands on a larger chunk of the Park coin.
What unfolds is a tense, funny, often brutal social satire, delving into the absurd rituals and anxieties of the wealthy, as well as the way money has the power to change everyone for the worse. It’s rare to see a film where pretty much every character is so gleefully unlikeable, so brilliantly unhinged. While Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters gave us a sweet story of a Japanese family in poverty doing what they had to do to survive, in Parasite our protagonists are cutthroat in their pursuit of money. They feel the world owes them something, and won’t stop until they get it.
The tone is reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth and even the likes of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Vile Bodies’ and William Thackery’s ‘Vanity Fair’, but there’s a wonderful specificity to Parasite which makes it such a captivating film: pivoting from hysteria to grotesque on a moment’s notice, it’s a bloodthirsty farce.
Bong doesn’t pull a single punch, and the title couldn’t be more appropriate: one scene involved a bloody tissue early on in the film quickly puts the writing on the wall. At the same time, Joon-ho is fiercely critical of the monied classes, who look down their nose at the poor (even noting that they have a distinctive smell) and at times don’t even see them as human; when Ki-woo is employed, his new boss says “let’s call you Kevin”, erasing his identity and creating a new one that fits with her family’s image.
It’s by no means a stretch to say that Bong is a master of his craft, but with a film as technically accomplished and infinitely fascinating as Parasite, he continues to remind us just how damn good he is – and put all contemporary western social satire to shame.
Published 22 May 2019
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