The great Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho returns with a thrilling and moving satire concerned with two families at opposite ends of the social spectrum

Film Review by Iana Murray | 24 May 2019
  • Parasite
Film title: Parasite
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam

To give some measure of how singular Parasite is, the audience at the Cannes press screening burst into applause not only when the credits began to roll, but twice during the film. The latest genre-bender from Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho is at times thrilling, and at others deeply emotional. It flits between dark comedy, thriller, horror and farce with such ease that the boundaries become indistinguishable. Such derivative labels could never be applied to a filmmaker with as much command of his craft as Bong.

After a pair of sometimes-English language films, Bong returns to South Korea and draws the class divide in the process. The gig economy rules over one family who makes a pittance from folding pizza boxes for a takeaway. A biting social satire begins to form when son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) lands a lucrative tutoring job for the Park family. Hierarchy exists in the formation of land: the working class struggle in subterranean living; the rich reside high in the hills of Seoul.

A masterful con job ensues as the entire family scam their way into finding employment with the Parks and take advantage of a naïvety afforded to them because they’ve never had to worry. But identifying the metaphorical leeching organism that provides the film’s namesake isn’t as simple as it seems. The family of con-artists latch on to the Parks, but the action is also reciprocated. The Parks look down their noses and smell through them too, sniffing out the impoverished like they’re animals. To be privileged isn’t just about looking the part, but smelling like it too.

Any societal observations are quickly undercut by a punchline, preventing the story from being dragged down by self-seriousness. It's a deeply funny film – a scheme involving peaches is one of many uproarious set-pieces. Parasite somewhat resembles Shoplifters, but the sweetness and empathy of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winner are removed. Capitalism takes root and corrupts both the wealthy and the poor.  

Parasite had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival – for more Cannes coverage, click hereParasite is released in UK cinemas on 7 Feb by Curzon

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