'Parasite' review: Bong Joon Ho goes one step ahead

'Parasite' review: Landing step for satire, a new level of dark comedy thriller

Movie: Parasite
Genre: Dark comedy thriller
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Language: Korean
Cast: Song Kang Ho, Lee Sun Kyun, Cho Yeo Jeong, Choi Woo Shik, Park So Dam, Lee Jung Eun, Chang Hyae Jin
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

As complete as a circle, as twisted as an ouroboros – watching Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite can easily leave one satisfied with closure, yet wondering about the emptiness inside.

Bong Joon Ho’s films tend to turn come back to where it all began, only nothing is the same anymore. 

Parasite is a satire on the societal hierarchies, brutally conveying a global reality. The plot revolves around two families – the Kim family that is on the wallaby and the Park family who are wealthy and upper-class. 

The twist is another couple that is hiding from loan sharks in a secret ‘hideout’.

The ‘parasite’ is the many levels of the class system. 

The Bible says that the root of all evil is the absence of empathy and this is the core of Parasite.

Is this a metaphor?

The Kim family, living in a semi-basement of a café, is so impoverished that the internet is an unaffordable luxury.

When the neighbourhood shuts their doors to block off fumes from the insect fumigation, the father - Kim Ki-taek (played by Song Kang Ho) wants to keep the window open so the house can get disinfected for free. As the family coughs and struggles to breathe as they put together a bunch of pizza boxes amid the gas, Ki-taek continues to work as if his life depends on packing the boxes. Truth be told, it did matter so much for the family.

The Park family lives on the more affluent side of the city. The very introduction of Park Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo Jeong) – the lady of the house – is of her sleeping carefree on the lawn as the help wakes her up.

The contrast between the two households reveals itself here: a shady semi-basement and narrow streets to a bright, lavish residence and wide streets. 

The rich enjoy the rain with no worry, while the poor try to find anything salvageable in their flooded homes.

What puts it all together is money. What destroys it all is social scale.

Stairway to heaven or highway to hell?

Things begin to change for the Kim family when Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik), the son lands a job via a friend as an English tutor for the daughter Park Da-hye (Jung Ziso) of the Park family. The friend also hands him a decorative stone, which Ki-woo latches on to immediately.

Tutoring at the Park family’s home, he comes up with an idea to get his sister Kim Ki-jung (Park So Dam), and eventually the entire family working there, but without revealing that they are part of the same family.

The ‘gullible’ Park Yeon-kyo falls almost right into every trap set by them and eventually fires even the trusted help Moon-gwang (Lee Jung Eun), who was a part of the house since its previous owner. The help is now replaced by the mother.

Nobody suspects anything except for Park’s son, who figures out that ‘they all smell the same’.

Life seems peaceful for both families until Moon-gwang returns to pick up something she left at the house and events begin to take a quantum leap from there.

Something smells fishy

Park’s son, the youngest of the two kids, is almost the only observant character in the story. The young Da-song (Jung Hyun Jun) points out that ‘they all smell the same’ and even figures out Morse code with the twitch of the main stairway light.

The staircase is the metaphorical string that ties together all the smaller metaphors like smell, light, identities and perspectives.

The Kim family is struggling to climb the staircase, while constantly hiding their true selves.

The Park family look down on and can never accept them as part of their own, even as they have bestowed their blind trust upon them.

The biggest asset of the movie is the music. Be it the soundtrack as hot sauce is added to pizza or an impromptu birthday party orchestra, the mood and the beat blend perfectly.

Why should you watch Parasite?

"It is vain to say that human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility; they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it."
-Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre.

The human race’s survival instincts have made it one of the most powerful beings. Still, when it is a question of a person's dignity, even logic and rationality can leave the metaphorical backseat and make a complete exit.

Parasite may not be the dark humour we have come across in Indian cinema, but it does elevate the standard for Hollywood.

It is certainly hard to overlook the battles faced by the characters and find them funny when Kim Ki-jung browses through her phone as the house is drowning in sewage water. This, however, doesn’t diminish the humour’s quality.

That is Bong Joon Ho’s play with the audience’s perspective. 

Even in his previous movies like The Host, he tried to push the comedy envelope entwined with a social message.

Parasite has won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Foreign Language Film and is nominated in six categories, including Best Picture, at the Oscars.

The film has received the recognition that it needs but Bong Joon Ho has much more to offer. Though Parasite may be lauded as Bong's crowning achievement, he probably has a few more stories up his sleeve and we can't wait to see them.