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"Parasite" Review

Judging from the title alone, Parasite sounds like a horror movie and not a biting social commentary about economic classes. But in the hands of South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-Ho (Okja, Snowpiercer, The Host), it's a metaphor for the divide between rich and poor, but not in the way you'd think and in the end, it does turn somewhat into a horror film.

Since the cast is all foreign with unfamiliar actors and characters almost having the same surnames, I'm going to describe things thusly: The Kim family - a mother, father, son, and daughter - are poor and unemployed, living in a cramped semi-basement (meaning top of walls are windows at sidewalk level) flat, relying on neighbors Wi-Fi for Internet connectivity. The only work we see them do at first is folding pizza boxes for a local shop.

A friend of the son's visits one day with the gift of a large scholar's rock which is supposed to bring them wealth. While hanging out with the son, he suggests that the son take over the English tutor gig with a wealthy family's - the Parks - daughter because he's about to go abroad for school. The sister forges up some documents implying son has more credentials than he does and the wife of the family doesn't care because he seems good at teaching.

Noticing a child's drawing, son discovers there's a young boy in the family and he suggests hiring an art tutor, the cousin of a friend, but actually his sister. In rapid order, the entire family is working for the wealthy family after manipulating the employers into believing the driver is having sex in the boss's Mercedes and the housekeeper is hiding active tuberculosis. However, they are pretending to be unrelated; it's just coincidental that everyone seemed to know just the right replacement for the workers being booted.

One night, while the employer family is away on a camping trip, the Kim family are hanging in their employer's home, eating and drinking, living the high life when the former housekeeper arrives, begging to be let in because she forgot something in the basement in her rush when she was dismissed. The reluctantly let her in at which point the story takes a hard turn into bonkers terrain. To say more would spoil the surprises.

While Parasite has been lauded for its commentary on economic differences by critics anxious to foment class warfare to usher in the mythical Socialist Utopia they never stop pining for, I think they have blinkered themselves to the fact they don't wish to see: THE POOR PEOPLE ARE THE VILLAINS, NOT THE HEROES! 

The hints are right there in the beginning when the pizzeria notes their folded boxes are 25% defective, indicating they don't care to do quality work. (We have no explanation as to why they're poor in the first place.) Then in order to get the parents in on the scam, the kids frame two innocent employees and have them kicked to the curb. Should the rich couple have been suspicious? Sure, but that's not the point. Without spoiling the ending, it goes completely off the rails and jumps all the sharks because we're supposed to be sympathetic to a character's actions because someone else made a sour expression about a smelly person? Really? All the layered subtly of the movie to that point goes out the window and the ending where the son dreams of reuniting his family by working hard and earning success legitimately is the final irony Parasite's class war fans overlook.

While the story may not be as deep as some may perceive, it's presented in a visually stunning manner with detailed production design - the Kim's apartment (and entire street!) and the Park's house interiors were built on soundstages; the Park's exterior on a empty lot - and sumptuous cinematography. Bong's camera movements and editing are deliberate orchestrated and dynamic, providing a lustrous sheen and tactile griminess as needed. The cast is uniformly excellent with Park So-dam, the Kim daughter, standing out with her sly manipulative demeanor. (She's also cute.)

Already winner of the 2019 Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the first foreign ensemble winner from the Screen Actors Guild, it's currently nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture, Director, International Film (which it's a slam dunk to take home). While I may not seem as overly impressed by Parasite as the critical herds - I've found all of Bong's movies I've seen to be good, but not that good - it's still a good movie worth watching. Let's just not lose our heads over it.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.  


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