Masterpiece. That may be one of the most overused (and misused) phrases in film criticism. Too often fans and critics alike are too quick to anoint some movie or other as the newest masterpiece. The term has lost some of its meaning. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of using it unnecessarily. I’m trying to improve there.
That being said, Parasite is a true masterpiece, through and through. If you look at any filmmaking metric, it nails it. What director Bong Joon-ho accomplishes here is nothing short of extraordinary. And this is where my job gets difficult.
I need to convince you that Parasite is as good as I say it is without giving away too much about the movie. But it’s exactly the details that I can’t divulge which make it so good. So I’ll do my best and then I have to ask you to trust that Parasite is more than worth the hype.
Parasite centers on the Kim family: father Ki-taek, mother Choong-sook, and their son and daughter, Ki-woo and Ki-jeong. Impoverished, the Kims live in a decrepit basement apartment, struggling to get by. Their main source of income comes from folding pizza boxes for a local restaurant.
A stroke of good fortune appears by way of Ki-woo’s friend, Min-hyuk. He had been working as an English tutor for the wealthy Park family, but is leaving soon to study abroad. He suggest he can help Ki-woo get hired as his replacement, thus giving him an easy, high-paying job, allowing him to help his family.
Based on the interview and Min-hyuk’s recommendation, Mrs. Park hires Ki-woo (now going by Kevin) for the tutoring position. Ki-woo then conspires to get the rest of his family hired by Mrs. Park for various other jobs: his sister as an art teacher for the Park’s son, his father as the Park family driver, and his mother as the housekeeper.
From there, Bong Joon-ho creates a genre bending adventure that never lets up until the final frame. Parasite is all at once a family drama, black comedy, thriller, and mystery. It weaves in between all of these with expert precision. The shifts are seamless. You think you’re watching a fairly straightforward drama, and then you’re laughing before you know it. It’s not long before you’re gasping in disbelief, right before you’re laughing again. Among everything impressive about Parasite (i.e. everything), the tonal balance Bong Joon-ho achieves might be the film’s most impressive aspect.
And while Parasite would be perfectly enjoyable as nothing more than a surface level story, it has so much more to say than that. Socioeconomic class, and the true distance between the poor and the wealthy elite, is the driving force. Bong broaches many questions about the relationships between the two, and presents the audience with answers in unexpected and shocking ways. I hate saying this because it feels like a cop out, but it’s hard to say much more without spoiling some of the best parts of the movie. I’m not the first to say that the best discourse surrounding Parasite will likely occur after the film releases and spoiler-filled think pieces start to come out.
While Parasite’s social commentary is strong and effective, it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The entire movie is so entertaining that you don’t even always realize what it was trying to say until after it’s over and you’ve had time to think about it. The story and characters are so engrossing that you simply absorb the message through the characters’ actions.
And speaking of the characters, every single actor deserves a ton of credit here as well. Yes, there’s a lot going for the movie that makes their job easier. The script, directing, cinematography, score, those are all excellent. But it’s still up to the actors to bring all that to life.
I can all but guarantee Parasite will get zero acting love from the Academy. But if it were to sweep the four acting categories at the Oscars, you would not find me complaining. You have Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam as the Kim children who are maybe just a little too smart for their own good. There’s Cho Yeo-jeong as Mrs. Park, sweet and well-meaning, if maybe a tad naive. And of course Song Kang-ho as the Kim patriarch who takes the “Would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your family?” moral exercise and putting it into practice, while also ramping it up by a factor of a thousand.
From the story to the actors to every last technical aspect, Parasite is as perfect as a movie can be. Not only is it the best movie of the year, I’d argue it’s the best movie of at least the last decade. It’s ability to shift between genres and tones, coupled with A+ performances, and a smart and important message, Parasite is a truly one of a kind experience.