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Parasite

Rating: 5

January 31, 2020

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong

Director: Bong Joon-ho

It may be best to go into Parasite knowing as little as possible about the film while settling into your seat. Allow its slow burning brilliance to creep up on you, and thou shall be handsomely rewarded.

Ever since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May where it won the top prize, the prestigious Palme D’Or, this staggeringly original offering from Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has dazzled critics and cinephiles with its sheer storytelling artistry. What begins as a dark satire about the class divide in contemporary South Korea segues masterfully into a cunning thriller with endless twists and surprises.

The film is primarily about two families. The first, the Kims, are dead broke and live in a dingy basement apartment, barely scraping by folding pizza boxes, and desperately trying to connect to whatever free WiFi they can steal. The other family, the Parks, are a wealthy lot who live in a sprawling home, immaculately maintained, with an overlooking lawn.

You could say that both families inhabit entirely different worlds; it’s hard to imagine their orbits intersecting. But then the son of the poor family somehow lands a job tutoring the teenage daughter of the rich folks. Before long his sister, employing similarly questionable methods, gets hired by the Parks as an art teacher for their young son.

That’s about all you need to know as far as the film’s plot is concerned. What I will tell you is that there’s an unsettling uneasiness that hangs over the film throughout…as if you know something bad is about to happen anytime. The suspense builds dramatically even as the layers are peeled one by one to reveal the sly heart of this extraordinary film and the messy humanity of its characters. Bong carefully and stingily parses out information about the characters, forcing you to stay alert to the tiniest details.

Although set in South Korea the film’s themes feel unmistakably universal – economic inequality, the resentment over the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and the privileged class’ apathy towards the less fortunate. There are moments that bristle with discomfort. Particularly a scene in which the wealthy couple discuss how the poor smell. “Like a rag that has been boiled,” Mr Park coolly tells his wife. It also asks you to consider who the ‘parasite’ of the film’s title actually refers to.

I found myself thinking about the film long after it was over. Bong, who made his name with cult favourites like Memories of Murder and The Host, has tackled class conflict previously in his English-language film Snowpiercer. But the elegance and the ensuing unforgettable horror of Parasite is in a league of its own. Hardly surprising that it won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and is up for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.

In his acceptance speech at the Globes, the filmmaker declared: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Take his advice. If you’ve never watched a foreign film before, start with Parasite. It’ll blow your mind.

I’m going with a full five out of five. It’s the best film I’ve watched recently.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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