There's nothing worse in life than being called a parasite.
Essentially, someone is saying that your entire existence is powered by feeding off something or someone else's hard work. You are the bottom of the barrel, the burnt grease clinging to the bottom of the fish fryer. The worst.
In Bong Joon Ho's brilliant new film, "Parasite," a lower class family in North Korea — Kim Ki-taek, his wife Chung-soo, son Ki-woo, daughter Ki-jeung — is the leech that wills itself to survival by crafting alternative methods to living.
The father-wife-son-daughter combo lives in an abandoned basement on a dead-end street many easily pass by on the street. They work low-paying jobs and scrap together what they earn while being smarter and craftier than most. This is the family that will toast beers in the presence of stolen WiFi. They work together like a team of con artists. They are survivors.
Opportunity knocks in the form of Ki-woo's friend, who gifts the family with a special scholar's rock (good luck?) and suggests Ki-woo take over the tutor's job at the Park family estate. A rich family with an overly trusting matriarch (Yeo-jeong Jo), The Park's mansion is the perfect setting for the Kim family. Let's just say it's not long before the entire family infiltrates the Park residence, leading to different sorts of mayhem.
I won't tell you more than that, because the fruits of the labor here is discovering all of Ho's jewels as the movie gets to them. He wrote the film with Jin Won Han, and it's a beast of a script. There are moments where you think the puzzle is solved, and then the rug is pulled out from under you. It's the first of multiple rug pulls during this movie, unforeseen thrills that come off as dark practical jokes soaked in human drama. There are so many surprises in this film that you'll be going back to watch it a second time.
This is a film that defies genre placing. It has drama, comedy, thriller, and even some action aspects to it. You'll laugh, sink in horror, grimace, jump out of your seat, and partially cover your face. The Kim family could easily be villains in another movie, but here Ho makes them wholly relatable and easy to cheer for. He does that by chiming in on the woeful class hierarchy in North Korea, including a wonderful comedic bit concerning their infamous leader.
A little over 75 minutes into the film, a plot twist occurs, heightening the already juicy existing plot and taking the film to another level of intrigue. This may be the most original film, plot-wise, in years. It's the kind of movie you don't see that often, and may not see in any shape or form for years. Then again, "Parasite" could become the new "Pulp Fiction," where filmmakers try to mimic its treats and fail drastically.
Out of the cast, I loved Kang-ho Sung as the father of the Kim family. He's got the most well-rounded story of the entire film, one that drives the final act and bookends the film. Sun-kyun Lee deserves mention for his work here as the Park family patriarch, sharing some key scenes with Sung.
As I mentioned earlier, there's a potent conversation in Ho's film about class, opportunity, and where you sit in this world. Kim Ki-taek tries to explain this to his son in one of the film's best moments. When their basement home gets flooded and they are lying next to each other in an abandoned gymnasium, the father tells his son what his plan is and why he has put together said plan. It's something simple that turns into something powerful, a dialogue batch that gives the film and its denouement extra weight.
Sometimes, your lot in life leaves you no choice but to make your own kind of living, one that may be subject to the identity of a parasite. The product of a world that favors survivors and doesn't cater to excuse-makers who do too much waiting.
The production design (that gorgeous house!), score, cinematography, and editing are all off the charts. The cast digs their feet in, and the film goes in different directions with alternate speeds.
I could tell you more, but then spoilage would occur.
Go see "Parasite." Don't watch the trailer, read much about it, or try to decipher it. Just go with the flow and be amazed at what you find.
It's OK if you attach yourself to this film for two hours.