Quite a stir has been caused by “Parasite,” the provocative South Korean film directed by Bong Joon Ho from a screenplay he wrote with Han Jin Won. It was showcased by the 57th New York Film Festival and is currently in commercial release. Why has “Parasite,” which won the top prize of Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, become such a much-discussed art film?
The answer lies in its unusual take on class differences in present-day South Korea. The renowned director injects dark humor into a plot involving polarized families, one the financially upscale Park family, the other the struggling lower class Kim family living in a basement.
How the director brings them together and what happens are carefully plotted, and while there is plenty of amusement in the situation he creates with colorful characters and settings, the film also evolves into an outburst of revolt and violence. While I especially appreciate the cleverness and the entertaining and sociological elements, I do have trouble with violent scenes that are hard to watch, but it is important to recognize that the violence is central to the director’s overall perspective and even his comic vision.
At the core is the film’s clever satirical thrust. The poor Kim family, headed by Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang Ho) and trying to get by in whatever ways possible, also consists of Ki-taek’s devoted wife and two siblings, a daughter and son. The plot takes hold when the son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik), gets an opportunity to be hired to tutor the Park family daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso), and that sets the stage for the interaction between the disparate families as other Kims deceptively manipulate their way into also working for the Parks.
Thus the film is geared to sharp commentary about the disparities in Korea today, but juxtaposed in a very original way by incorporating the film’s gallows humor into the mix. The cast that the director has assembled is first-rate.
“Parasite” is likely to emerge at awards time, so on that basis alone, you may want to keep up with this year’s cinema by seeing it for yourself. A Neon release. Reviewed October 11, 2019.