In Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, the wealthy Park family collides with the poor but street-smart Kim family, causing . . . a movie like nothing I’ve ever seen.
Sure, it’s a social issue film addressing the enormous gulf between the haves and have nots. But it’s also a black comedy, thriller, farce, tragedy, and domestic drama. Add it all up and you get Art House. The storyline, the filming, the pacing are all fresh. Visually it’s compelling.
I haven’t seen Bong Joon Ho’s other films, but they are now on my list. In Parasite, the genre mixing is mostly seamless and keeps the audience off balance in a way that increases interest, but there are several bumps along the way.
In short, after the Kim college-age son talks himself into the post of tutoring the Park teenager daughter, step-by-step the Kim family connives its way—in mostly comedic fashion—into displacing and supplanting the entire Park family domestic staff. Daughter becomes art therapist to the Park son obsessed with American Indians. Father becomes chauffeur to the Park patriarch. Mother becomes housekeeper.
The Park family matriarch is a problematic character. She’s mostly a weakly written and gullible twit, which may have been helpful in order to play up the absurd aspects of the film, but at a sacrifice. She’s a memorable character, not a strong one.
Big moment: When the Park family goes camping for the weekend to appease the 6-year-old boy, the Kim family camps out in the luxury home and behaves badly. And here’s where the film’s big surprise occurs. With this dramatic event taking place halfway through the movie, it’s anyone’s guess where the story might lead. Which is a problem. Some of the choices from here out seem arbitrary. When the climax comes, anyone to be the winner/loser of the conflict. The ending of the film was appropriate and satisfying, but I felt this ending was among a number of possibilities.
The best movies (and novels) have a sense not just of surprise at the ending, but a feeling of inevitability. Although you didn’t see the end coming, when you look back along the spine of the entire story, you can see how no other ending would have been possible or as satisfying.
Parasite doesn’t deliver in this regard. But a film that mixes all those genres probably can’t or shouldn’t. It’s a fascinating movie beginning to end and I would see it again. That’s the best recommendation of all.