Director: Bong Joon Ho
Seoul, South Korea. The Kim family are living in poverty, and collectively cannot hold a job down. When a teaching role in the household of a much wealthier family arises, the Kims scheme their way into employment by posing as highly skilled workers. But not everything goes according to plan.
Parasite is a difficult film to talk about. It defies any easy pigeonhole, wriggles free from slotting into a single genre, can be considered both a mainstream crowd-pleaser and an arthouse masterpiece — and is, undeniably, a film best enjoyed going in blind, its delicious and shocking surprises ideally experienced as innocently and obliviously as possible. So, finding words to describe it are hard. If there’s one word that can best sum it up, it’s the director: Bong Joon Ho.
Parasite is pure Bong, which is to say that it is many things at once. From his 2000 debut, Barking Dogs Never Bite, onwards, the Korean auteur has had an itchy, restless mind, never settling on tone or subject matter, darting from horror to thriller to dystopian sci-fi to vegan monster movie — sometimes within the same film — sucking up influences from both Hollywood (Spielberg, Hitchcock) and his native Korea (Kim Ki-young, Lee Chang-dong) along the way. His hallmark is his multitudes.
This, his seventh film, is different again; after the futuristic stylings of Okja and Snowpiercer, Parasite initially snaps into something resembling contemporary social realism. We meet the impoverished Kim family — parents Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and Chung-sook (Chang Hyae Jin), and their adult children Ki-jung (So-dam Park) and Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) — living in a squalid semi-basement apartment. They are unemployed and apparently unemployable. They steal whatever free Wi-Fi their cheap phones can pick up, leave their windows open so the street fumigators will also kill their stink- bug infestation, and watch helplessly as local drunks piss on the road above them.
They’ve seen better days. Life is hard. But this is no Ken Loach tragedy. The Kims, we soon learn, are quixotically ambitious and almost Machiavellian in their ingenuity. When an opportunity presents itself for Ki-woo, the son, to engage in some light subterfuge by posing as an English-language teacher for the teenage daughter of the wealthy Park family, they seize it. There seems to be no question among them: the Kims are a united front from the start, and will embark in whatever professional bullshittery they need to lift themselves up.
The Parks, on the other hand, are in every sense the economic and social opposites of the Kims. They live in a grand, modernist mansion in a hilly Seoul suburb; the aloof Park patriarch, Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), is head of some faceless IT company, while his stay-at-home wife Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) frets about their troubled children alongside a permanent housekeeper (Lee Jung-eun). Their deeply detached privilege ensures that the Kim family, one-by-one, manage to swindle their way into the family home, without it ever seeming implausible.