• Emma Holt

Parasite (2019) - Bong Joon Ho Film Review

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

"Dad? What was your plan? Before you said you had a plan. What will you do? About... the basement?" "Ki-woo, you know what plan never fails? No plan at all. No plan. You know why? If you make a plan, life never works out that way. That's why people shouldn't make plans. No plan, nothing can go wrong. And if something spins out of control, it doesn't matter."

-Ki Taek (Father) and Ki Woo (son) in Parasite (2019)

Chaotic, mind-bending and mysteriously complex, Bong Joon Ho's most recent film, Parasite delivers something bold, powerful, and uniquely all its own.

The Korean film created by renowned director Bong Joon Ho has made a huge splash in the international film community following its release November of 2019, picking up the prestigious Palm d' Or (highest honor) at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay in the U.S. Truly, from the perspective of a self-proclaimed "cinefile" and art film lover, this film is nothing short of a masterpiece. There is so much to unpack in this film - and per usual Bong Joon Ho style - he always leaves a great deal up to the imagination.

Parasite's Place in the Canon of Psychological Horror & Foreign Film

I often like to write my film reviews either right after or a day after screening. This method gives me just enough time to let it sink in but also to jot down my raw, initial thoughts and impressions. Afterwards, I do more research see what other people gathered from the film and if the filmmaker has given a clear message as to what their purpose is with a film. Just a disclaimer that I don't know anything for a fact, and that I'm speaking subjectively about the film for the purpose of this review.

I'm especially excited to write this review because I have been a lover of asian film since studying film in college. This was when I first came across Bong Joon Ho, and fell in love with his film Memories of Murder (2003) (also starring Kang-ho San). While watching Parasite, I saw inspiration from the famous Korean psychological thriller Old Boy (2003), in addition to seeing the unmistakeable trademarks of Bong Joon Ho. Ho is particularly known for bringing very real subjects into a seemingly imaginative and fantastical light. One of his better known films in the U.S. , Snowpiercer (2013), is a perfect example of this style. While the surface-level story of the film is a fantastical, sci-fi narrative, at the heart of the film is a story of extreme poverty, oppression, and the darker side of human nature. It came as no surprise to me that darker themes come into play in Parasite, particularly when Ho's characters are forced to confront their differences.

The Review:

The general idea of the word parasite perhaps brings to mind an unpleasant memory of getting bit by a tick, flea, or mosquito in your life. However, as many of us know, parasitic behavior is not limited to insects. Much like a mosquito needs to suck blood to live, the human parasite feeds on psychological, emotional, and material assets of its host. While the mosquito, by nature, cannot choose to be this way, the human being can. In becoming a parasite, the human being chooses the easy path to sustenance - by feeding off the hard work of another. Unsurprisingly, this path that is always riddled with consequences. But... what if? What if you came across a very impoverished mosquito who could not climb his way out of the gutter no matter how hard he tried? What if he lived side by side a fat mosquito who had more than enough to go around? And instead of giving to the poor, the fat mosquito just continues to get fatter? Would you forgive the impoverished mosquito for becoming a parasite?

Ok, so maybe I took the mosquito metaphor a little far, but it makes good sense when looking closely at Parasite. One thing I learned from my film classes is that the title of a film is always meaningful, and important to take into consideration. In naming the film Parasite, Bong Joon Ho brings a great deal of attention the theme of class difference, solidifying that as a defining purpose of the film.

The Plot: Parasite begins with obvious and even comedic behavior by the impoverished Kim family on the wealthy Park's. Tired of defending their cockroach ridden apartment from pissing drunks in the alley, the Kim family hatches a simple plan to bring back the wi-fi to their crumbling home. Seeing the Park family so rich beside the Kim's, it seems obvious to root for the Kim's in this situation. From an audience perspective, you start off team Kim, hoping they pull a quick get rich quick scheme on the Park family. Truly, their initial plan of getting everyone legit jobs with the rich Park family is not that bad (excusing the lying about who they are). But it's when the family gets greedy that things start to go sideways (and I mean really sideways).

In a crazy turn of events the Kim family discovers they are not the only Parasite of the Park's. This is when you start to wonder, are the parasites really the problem, or is it the system that created this disparity of wealth between them?

The flooded apartment scene is where the characters hit rock bottom. They are too deep in the lie and they have nothing to return home to - no comfort, no shower - literally drowning in their own guilt; drowning in the inescapable poverty and the situation that created it. This is where Ki Taek reveals to his son, Ki Woo, his, "art of not having a plan." I feel like this ideology is persistent across human nature and throughout human history. "Que sera sera (what will be will be)," "anything that can go wrong will go wrong," are just a few sayings in which humanity has tried to capture this concept.

The last 30-45 minutes of the film take you by surprise as emotions swell and erupt into violence. Greed is what really sends the whole situation into chaos. Kim family mom, Chung Sook murders former house keeper, Moon Gwang by kicking her down the stairs to prevent being found out by the Parks. This causes Moon Gwang's secret basement husband, Geun Se, to attempt to murder Kim's son, Ki Woo, in a horrendous fashion. Rampaging, he then stabs Chung Sook's daughter Ki-Jung with a kitchen knife in the middle of the Kim's young son's birthday. Finally, Geun Se is stabbed in the side with a hot dog skewer by Chung Sook, as she attempts to rescue her daughter but she knows it's too late. Lastly, in the most cathartic killing of all, Ki Taek stabs Mr. Park with the same kitchen knife in a moment of "no more." With all the cheap jabs and insensitive comments Mr. Park makes about the Kim's poverty throughout the film, especially regarding Ki Taek and his "subway smell," the killing feels like a righteous one.

This pivotal scene all takes place during a child's birthday party that quickly spirals into chaos. You may expect this kind of scene in something like The Shining or Kill Bill, but the setting of a wealthy, suburban household adds another level of horror to this moment. Here in this wealthy, beautiful household, unspeakable things have occurred. Horror films that occur in the household are especially unsettling.... it makes sense, right? The home is supposed to be a place of comfort, and wealthy houses especially bring a sense of safety and extravagance. So, by putting this horror movie scene in an unusual setting, and pairing it with an unusual set of characters and circumstances, you cant help but have mixed feelings regarding the outcome. In Bong Joon Ho's world, there is no "good," and "evil." There are only people, who have free will and make their own decisions - good and bad. Perhaps most vividly, Bong Joon Ho leaves us with an understanding that humans are more complex than we realize; sometimes a simple money making scheme turns into a bloodbath.

"When the people shall have nothing to eat, they will eat the rich."

-Jean Jacques Rousseau

A visionary film that will have lasting impacts for decades to come.

5 Stars

19 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All