Korean director Bong Joon-ho has once again lanced the infected boil on the bum of society: inequality. Those who saw his sci-fi action-thriller Snowpiercer (which cut a strikingly violent image of a class system gone awry) will know he isn’t a stranger to the topic. While far less abrasive, Bong’s latest, this year’s Palme d’Or winning Parasite, is no less pointed. Rather, this time he gives us the same critical castigation cloaked in the tranquility of a present-day urban setting.
Bong brings an uneasy mix of dark comedy and caustic ideas to his story about a family of four who wrestle with poverty, greed and dignity. Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), a street-wise teenager, lives with his family within the bowels of the city’s “lower class”, wallowing (literally at times) in the filth, vomit and excrement that seemingly pools on their doorstep. But fortune (and a bit of creative forgery) lands Ki-woo a job uptown at the wealthy Park family residence. As he ingratiates himself into the family’s trust he manages to engineer (again, via deceitful means) jobs within the household for the rest of his own family to occupy.
The aptly titled Parasite is indeed a double-entendre that perfectly describes the two families’ symbiotic relationship. However, all is not as it seems at the Park mansion and Bong, whose camera begins to spit and sputter to life, appears to delight in slowly exposing the rotting underbelly of their newfound life.
Exhilarating and thrillingly portrayed, Parasite is elevated by some jaw-dropping scenes, employing to maximum effect Bong’s skill as a visual director as well as his dextrous use of satire to illuminate the more unsavoury side of class-politics. In many ways, it casts a striking resemblance to last year’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, and also gives a quiet nod to Jordan Peele’s slick modern horror, Us. Nonetheless, Parasite remains a unique parable of the haves and have-nots—a resonant masterpiece that, like its name, gets under your skin but leaves you the richer for it.