Parasite – VIFF 2019 Review

Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho (The Host [2006], Snowpiercer [2013]) is back and more brilliant than ever with Parasite, his so-very-deserving Palme d’Or-snatching socio-political critique that goes from slapstick comic hijinx to outright angry class rage and back with alacrity and ease.

Co-written along with Han Jin-won, Bong presents a full-flavored bravura delicacy about a family of four, the Kims, under very dire circumstances. They struggle to remain just above the poverty line in a slipshod semi-basement apartment, and as the early scenes of Parasite enumerate, often rather amusingly, they’re a greed-driven yet extremely resourceful bunch. Then, via a school contact and some spurious documents from his teenage sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), the son, cleverly cons his way into a gig as English tutor to the daughter of the extremely affluent Park family.

Almost right away Ki-woo sees the golden opportunity for his entire family’s endowment from the Park’s unsuspecting coffers and a scheme is set to one-by-one replace the Park’s entire domestic staff by first his sister, than his father Kim Ki-taek (Bong regular and South Korean acting legend Song Kang-ho) and then his mother, Choong-sook (Jang Hyae-jin).

From there Parasite’s multi-layered anarchic spirit and Bong’s confidence trickster temperament hits full tilt. The satirical cuts and occasionally cruel comedy align with brilliant design as the Parks go on an overnight camping trip and foolishly entrust their mansion into Choong-sook’s questionable care. It’s here that the encroaching cloudburst and the destinies of both families becomes more gravely enmeshed and the somewhat upbeat farce gets undeniably cold-blooded.

Equal parts artful and urgent, Bong’s masterful pisstake on class politics (after and even before all the blood and thunder, just who exactly are the eponymous parasites?) is a dark thriller loaded with laughs as well as a socially astute melodrama.

Like his finest work, and Parasite easily ranks alongside Memories of Murder (2004) and Mother (2009), this is a film that defies easy genre-classification. Here the shifts of tone and sometimes breezy bits of horseplay often startle with stabs of frenzy and sorrow. Parasite is certainly one of the year’s finest films and a feather in Bong’s already well-anointed cap.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.