Review: Parasite


In the wake of a historic best picture win, Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” will change the film industry.

The surprise storyline of the 2019 awards season was the Korean film “Parasite”, from the masterful writer and director Bong Joon Ho. “Parasite” is the story of a poor family that takes a special interest in a very wealthy family, and gets jobs working for this wealthy family, basically living entirely off of their employer without the wealthy family knowing that they are all related or that they are all poor. I know I’m a little late to the party since “Parasite” came out a few months ago, but after it won four academy awards and became the only foreign film ever to win best picture, I felt like I couldn’t leave this without a review. 

From a technical standpoint “Parasite” is virtually flawless, I’ve seen it 3 or 4 times now, and it really has no single second that isn’t amazing. The cinematography and the visual architecture of the film is very meticulous and beautiful. The score is also brilliant, which I only really picked up on after I’d seen it a couple times. The acting is also very good, all of the lead actors are tremendous instinctive actors and you can tell that they really understand the characters that they are portraying. The film is also very well written and surprisingly funny in the first half, and then there is a key moment where things get less funny and a lot more serious, and that is where this movie hooked me. 

There are a lot of things in movies that the filmmakers can’t really control, in terms of how audiences perceive what happens. Tone is a very hard thing to portray without being really blunt about it. I can hear sad music playing, and see a person crying, and I understand that the scene is sad, but when a film is subtle in its portrayal of tone, it usually makes the movie so much better. Martin Scorsese is notoriously good at this especially in films like Taxi Driver and he calls it manipulating the audience. Bong Joon Ho does this perfectly and it starts with the writing.

This film is incredibly detailed in it’s writing, and it does a very good job of respecting its character, and not picking a side. We meet the rich family and the poor family and we don’t really know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. We also get unique views of these people. In most of Hollywood, poor people are usually portrayed as idiots or lazy bums, but in this film they are incredibly smart, because they have to be. They don’t have the resources of the wealthy family, so they have to use their minds and their wits to survive. In the second half of the film, when things get serious, the movie gets legitimately scary, and it is because of the writing. The things that are happening are scary, but they are scary because they seem plausible. I can watch a monster movie, and it is frightening while I’m watching it, but I know that it is all fake, and it could never really happen. In “Parasite”, Because of the way that the characters are presented to us, scary things happen and we can understand the characters motivations, and it makes it  so much more realistic, and scary. 

It’s little things like this that are really hard to explain and talk about, but often make the difference between a good movie and a great movie. Recently Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story also did this very well, and early last year a similar film, Jordan Peele’s “Us”, which is a very good movie, didn’t really hit the same marks, and it distinguishes “Parasite” as the better movie. But then the film has the metaphorical sense and the deeper meaning to it. In its essence “Parasite” is a social satire. We are meant to recognize the differences in how a rich family and a poor family perceive what is happening around them. The poor family lives physically lower in the city than the rich people do, and Bong Joon Ho’s camera highlights this with some really beautiful symbolic shots. During one scene there is a rain storm and the rich people think it is beautiful, while the poor people are scrambling to keep their basement house from flooding. One of the rich people orders a very common meal in Korea, that would normally cost $5 and decides she wants sirloin added to it making it a $50 meal, and then eats it in front of the poor family. The movie is jam packed with symbolic moments like this and it elevates the film even more. 

Setting aside how good of a movie this was on its own, I can’t help but wonder what will happen next. There were a lot of more traditional options this year for best picture, but from hearing interviews of people who are part of the academy and who voted for best picture, it sounds to me like this wasn’t even much of a race, “Parasite” had it locked up from the beginning. A foreign film winning best picture is going to lead to more foreign films being made and being recognized by audiences and critics, and I can’t wait. As Bong Joon Ho put it in his Golden Globe acceptance speech, “Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”.             

Final Score for: “Parasite”

5 out of 5 stars