Concerning Parasites and Parasite

By William Chandler

Review of Parasite

By William Chandler

Bong Joon Ho’s film Parasite is certainly his most approachable work to date, at least from a wider audience perspective. The film moves briskly, thanks to consistently snappy pacing, and its humorous sequences are sharply relevant — even to decidedly Western crowds. With excellent cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo (who also worked on last year’s Burning and Joon Ho’s Mother), well-considered editing, and a solid script, this is likely his most technically adept production. Parasite has received consistently high marks from both critics and audiences — a major accomplishment, given the ever-widening gap between what audiences and critics each want from films. It stands as his highest-rated movie ever on Rotten Tomatoes.

Parasite follows a lower-class family of four in their struggles to not just succeed but also survive in a cold and uncaring society. After his parents consistently fail to provide, Kim Ki-woo, at the behest of his friend, takes a job tutoring the teenage daughter of the wealthy Park family. Kim Ki-woo must then fake a higher education and credentials in order to get the job. Before long, his entire family is secretly employed by the Parks in various roles through a chain of “recommendations,” started when Kim Ki-woo recommends his sister as an art instructor for the Park family’s young son. However, the Kim family must all assume fake identities in order to keep up the charade, and the situation quickly becomes complicated. Keeping their stories straight is where a large amount of the film’s humor and tension both come from. It is not an easy balancing act, but one that is well executed here.

Bong Joon Ho’s films often take place in an exaggerated version of our own reality, and Parasite is no exception. While characters are believable, realistic, and well-written within the context of this world, they might perhaps come across as extreme in ours. At first blush, the wealthy Park family appears almost sadistically lavish and carefree. They have a beautiful home that the camera, and even the characters, lingers upon with an almost sexual appreciation and an appropriately gorgeous family to occupy it. Any problems they have can be solved by throwing money at them. By contrast, the Kims live in borderline destitution. There is an early gag in the film where the Kim family unanimously complains about how one of their neighbors recently secured their WiFi network, which prevents the Kims from using it. This stark contrast  helps us empathize and relate to the Kims in their struggles while framing the Parks as unaware and aloof.

Much of the film’s run time is devoted to the development of the family dynamics. As Parasite progresses, the Parks are made somewhat more sympathetic through their closeness to one another. This is smartly portrayed as earlier scenes in the film very rarely show them interacting directly; rather, it is normally done through the context of the Kims. But by the latter half of the film the Parks are together in nearly every scene. By contrast, the Kims are clearly tight-knit from the beginning, but the fake identities they now have to uphold serve only to separate and alienate them from one another more and more. The next time they are shown all together as a family, near the final act, they are all alone in the household after the Parks decide to take a family camping trip. They have made themselves at home, imagined their lives in place of the Parks, and have cathartically trashed the house. They reveal their distaste for the Parks, labor on about their misfortunes, and become petty and pathetic in the process. You slowly get the feeling that nothing would really be good enough to satiate them.

A mysterious third party is revealed in the final act which serves to recontextualize who plays what role in the narrative and leads to some absurd violence that will likely either be considered the weakest or strongest part of the film, depending on the viewer. Arguments about who are the parasites of whom and expressions of distaste for the various characters really only serve to reveal insight into the beliefs of the viewer performing the analysis. By the end of the film, one should feel drained and disgusted by what they’ve seen these people do to one another, both physically and emotionally. The title of the film is likely less intended to label either the Kims or the Parks in their conflict, but rather that the parasite in question is the structural imbalance that leads us to hate our fellow man.

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