Bong Joon Ho (director)
2h 12 mins (length)
06 February 2020 (released)
12 February 2020
A surprise contender at this year's Oscars, Bong Joon-ho's Parasite is aiming to become the first foreign language movie to win Best Picture. So what is all the hype about - and most importantly, does it live up to it?
One reason Bong's movie has found a wide audience around the world is its timely subject matter - it is a bizarre, black, and occasionally horrifying, comedy about how the other half lives.
The film juxtaposes the lives of the impoverished Kim family, who live in a basement flat - one where leaving the windows open can mean an impromptu fumigation alongside the stink bugs - with that of the wealthy Parks - residents of the kind of pristine mansion you could imagine appearing on the Korean version of MTV Cribs.
Through a friend who is preparing to study abroad, as well as a bit of forgery, the son of the Kim family, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), bags himself a job tutoring the Parks' daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso).
Likeable and resourceful Ki-woo is a huge hit with the family, including wealthy entrepreneur Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), his vaguely distant wife, Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), and son Da-song (Jung Hyun-jun).
However, he is determined to give all of the Kims a better life, and so his family, including his underemployed dad Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), his mum Chung-sook (Chang Hye-jin), and highly intelligent sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam).
Needing work and cash, the Kims gradually infiltrate the Parks' lives - with Ki-woo suggesting his sister, a master of manipulation, for the role of troublesome Da-song's art therapist, without revealing their relationship. Ki-taek takes on the role of chauffeur, while the family contrive to wangle mother Kim a job as a housekeeper by convincing the Parks' their longtime housekeeper has tuberculosis.
What follows is a fascinatingly bizarre mix of social commentary, farce, horror, and subtly crafted comedy, all woven around what is essentially a tightly-plotted heist movie.
Bong keeps Parasite moving along in a way that makes its genre difficult to pin down. One moment we are watching a carefully plotted character drama about two families who, in a fair world, might have been friends and neighbours, trapped in a doomed battle of subterfuge, the next we are finding mysteries in the basement or watching a bizarre slow-motion living room brawl conducted to the dulcet tones of Italian crooner Gianni Morandi.
All that might sound too much. And it certainly is not a straightforward movie that gives up its intentions easily. But what holds it together is Bong's almost unrivalled love of the cinematic art and his excellence as a director.
Scenes that in lesser hands would contain jarring switches of genre, flow into one another and each looks utterly beautiful - perfectly lit in washed-out yet sharp colours, with not an actor or shot out of place. Of the performances, Song is at the centre as Mr. Kim, but you could highlight moments from each actor and character that deserve attention and plaudits. Most importantly, almost every scene is incredibly entertaining.
Parasite may not be for everyone, particularly those who are put off by the idea of subtitles - but if you give it a chance it is more than worth it. Not because it is a great foreign language film, or a great film, period. But because it's actually several fascinating movies in one. As such, it will be a worthy Best Picture winner.