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Review: Parasite

October 18, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Director Bong Joon-ho’s first film in Korean following his two English-language movies Snowpiercer and Okja, Parasite made history earlier this year when it took home the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes, becoming the first film from South Korea to win the award. And now that I’ve seen the film, I can say that it deserved the award, and I’m in awe that the Palme even went to such a weird and wild film.

Without giving too much away, the film follows an impoverished Korean family – father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Change Hyae-jin), and their young adult son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) – who all live together in a cramped basement apartment, stealing wifi from nearby signals and doing whatever jobs they can to earn enough money for food.

Through a series of circumstances, their lives end up intertwined with the rich Park family – mother Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-jeong), father Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), their teenaged daughter Da-hye (Jung Ji-so) and young son Da-song (Jung Hyun-jun) – who reside in a glorious mansion. I don’t want to say any more about the plot of Parasite, because that would ruin the entirely unique experience of seeing it for yourself.

Functioning as a fascinating study of how society’s underclass is held down by those at the top, either actively or passively, Bong Joon-ho has crafted a genre-bending film that keeps inverting and going in surprising new directions, as it oscillates seamlessly between dark comedy, drama, suspense thriller and horror. And in a career of great genre works, Parasite is maybe the director’s finest work yet, combining elements of both the action and thrills of Snowpiercer with the more introspective, character-focused tone of his 2009 crime drama Mother, which played with a series of complex moral dilemmas.

The film is grounded in the themes of class differences and social hierarchies that have underscored all of Bong Joon-ho’s work. Where as Snowpiercer used the metaphor of a train to symbolize separations in class, with each car holding a different level of society from the poor at the back to the rich at the front, Parasite brilliantly employs the over-under metaphor of a house to reveal the stark differences in living conditions between the rich and poor.

This is also one of the best looking movies of the year. The production design is exceptional, with the central family’s dark and dingy basement apartment standing in stark contrast to the Park family’s bright and airy modern house, which has a large glass window overlooking a backyard with perfectly trimmed grass. Cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong, who also shot Snowpiercer for Bong Joon-ho as well as last year’s acclaimed South Korean film Burning, brings some captivating imagery to the screen, with his style and the film’s visual language changing to match the wild tonal shifts.

The film’s ensemble cast does uniformly excellent work, all perfectly tuned in to the unique tone of the piece. At the centre of the ensemble is Song Kang-ho, a frequent collaborator of Bong Joon-ho, who also worked with the filmmaker in Memories of a Murder, The Host and Snowpiercer. The actor brings an emotional depth to his role here, especially in the moments when he realizes that, while he is being superficially accepted by this rich family, they still look down upon him and view him very much as being of a separate, dirtier class.

The film function as a brilliant social allegory that has more victims than villains, building towards one of the best endings of any film this year, closing on a note that is actually quite moving in its own way and lingers with you long afterwards. I could keep going on and on about what makes this film so great, but I’m going to stop there, because the most important takeaway from this review is that you should experience the film for yourself. Gripping to watch throughout every one of its surprising moments, Parasite is a wild ride. See it knowing as little about the plot as possible.

Parasite is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

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