In May, Parasite unanimously and deservedly took home the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The 2019 Palme d’Or winner, a tour de force from writer-director Bong Joon-ho, could rightfully find itself in the conversation for the top prize at 92nd Academy Awards. Although no foreign-language film has ever won Best Picture and no South Korean film has ever been nominated in any category, Parasite would be worthy of the historical distinction.
Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), an aspiring college student from a poverty-stricken family, is offered a golden opportunity when his friend Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon), a student and tutor, leaves to study abroad. With Min-hyuk out of the picture, Ki-woo is able to tutor Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), a high-school student and member of the wealthy Park family.
Ki-woo, entrepreneurial and desperate, notices that Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) is struggling to find a tutor for her peculiar son, Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon). Ki-woo mentions his “friend,” Jessica, who is back from Chicago where she studied art. Ever the salesman, Ki-woo mentions her unconventional methods and packed tutoring schedule. Mrs. Park agrees to hire Jessica on Ki-woo’s recommendation. Jessica, who is actually Ki-woo’s sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), successfully infiltrates the family alongside her brother.
Through a series of deceptions, including the clever exploitation of a peach allergy, the Kim family is able to spur the firing of the Parks’ driver and housekeeper. With each member of the family recommending another for an open position, Ki-woo’s father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) are also employed by the Parks before long. Balancing a cavalcade of lies and two different lives per person, the Kim family must keep their ducks in a row to remain employed.
Co-written by Han Jin-won, Parasite is as intoxicating as it is razor-sharp. Production designer Lee Ha Jun designed and built the Park family’s stately, modernist palace from scratch, offering Bong a gorgeous palette and clearly delineated space to shoot Parasite’s many Scooby-Doo chase scenes. Lee, responsible for designing the environments for both sides of the wealth gap, also constructed the Kim family’s cramped, meager sub-basement apartment, dividing the two families by dwelling and provenance.
Bong incorporates a third sensory input—scent—to Parasite, adding another dimension to the standard cinematic experience. In The Revenant, the permafrost-laden ground was enough to send a chill through your bones; in Parasite, scent is deployed brilliantly as a partition among classes. Domiciles, people, and even rainwater impact the Kim and Park family in disparate ways. Bong poked at class warfare with Snowpiercer, a subtler allegory, but the director confronts the subject relentlessly in Parasite.
With director Martin Scorsese in the news discussing the separation between film as entertainment and art, Parasite comes to bridge the gap. No working director can mediate the two extremes like Bong Joon-ho. Popcorn and philosophy combine for an explosive, considered film. Production design, casting, acting, writing, editing, cinematography, and the rest work synchronously to deliver the single can’t-miss movie experience of 2019.
In an interview with YouTube channel Birth.Movies.Death, Bong noted, “I tried to express a sentiment specific to the Korean culture… but the responses from different audiences were pretty much the same, which made me realize that the topic was universal. Essentially, we all live in the same country called Capitalism.” Parasite is unmistakably the work of a master of the craft addressing a borderless plight.