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In Theaters: PARASITE (2019)

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PARASITE
(South Korea - 2019)

Directed by Bong Joon Ho. Written by Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Wan. Cast: Song Kang Ho, Lee Sun Kyun, Cho Yeo Jeong, Choi Woo Shik, Park So Dam, Chang Hyae Jin, Park Seo Joon, Jung Ziso, Jung Hyun Jun, Lee Jung Eun, Park Myung Hoon, Park Geun Rok, Jung Yi Seo. (R, 132 mins)

"You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. With no plan, nothing can go wrong." 

The latest film from South Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho (THE HOST, SNOWPIERCER, OKJA), the dazzling PARASITE deservedly won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Alternately funny, dramatic, tragic, and nail-bitingly suspenseful, it continues Bong's recurring themes of class conflict and economic and social disparity, with enough shades of gray that it never becomes the kind of misanthropic, spleen-venting screed that a less-nuanced filmmaker (or the inevitable US remake) would create. Resourceful Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) has the smarts to go to college but it's out of the question: his broke, lower-class family--dad Ki-taek (Bong regular Song Kang Ho), mom Chung-sook (Chang Hyae Jin), and adult sister Ki-jung (Park So Dam)--live in a crummy, stinkbug-and-cockroach infested basement apartment at the end of an alley in the slums of Seoul. The only window offers a view of a dumpster that a local drunk uses as a toilet, and they have to crouch on a raised platform in the bathroom to steal wi-fi from the restaurant above. What little income they have comes from pre-folding boxes for a nearby pizza joint, and even that doesn't work out because Ki-taek's sloppy workmanship gets their pay docked, but they still have enough to get their phones turned back on for another month.






Ki-woo's friend Min (Park Seo Joon) is about to go off to grad school in the US, and on the basis of Ki-woo's past military service where he mastered English, gets him a job as a replacement private tutor for Da-hye (Jung Ziso), the teenage daughter of wealthy tech CEO Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun Kyun). Armed with documents and credentials forged by Photoshop wiz Ki-jung, Ki-woo uses his charm to manipulate Park's nice but passive, gullible wife Yeon-geo (Cho Yeo Jeong) into landing the job, and he immediately sees an opportunity. Yeon-geo believes their rambunctious, attention-deficient young son Da-song (Jung Hyun Jun) has artistic abilities ("It's a chimpanzee," Ki-woo marvels when looking at one of the child's drawings, to which his mother replies "It's a self-portrait"), prompting Ki-woo (who goes by "Kevin" with the family) to introduce Ki-Jung as "Jessica," inventing a story that she's a friend of a friend and an art therapist who went to school in Chicago. With Ki-jung hired as Da-song's art teacher, she devises a plan to land cushy jobs for their parents, first by getting rid of the Parks' driver Yoon (Park Geun Rok) by planting her own dirty underwear in the backseat of the car for Dong-ik to find, then orchestrating the ousting of loyal housekeeper Moon-gwang (Lee Jung Eun), who came along with the house when the Park family bought it four years earlier from the previous owner, the aging architect who designed it and has since moved to Paris.






With the Kim family essentially invading the home and now parasitically latched on to the wealthy Parks, there are any number of directions Bong and co-writer Han Jin Wan can take the story. But before a wacky comedy or an old-school Michael Haneke movie can break out, everything abruptly shifts and they pull the rug out from under you with a shocking development at exactly the midpoint that sets in motion a chain reaction of one jaw-dropping predicament after another. PARASITE is a case study of perfection in terms of balance of tone, plotting, and pacing, displaying an almost Larry David-esque style in the way insignificant events and sometimes humorous and seemingly throwaway lines come back into play much later. There are no wasted or or superfluous lines of dialogue here.





Refreshingly, PARASITE is not a one-percenter rage piece like SNOWPIERCER, since that would just be Bong repeating himself. For all their con games and deceit that sometimes crosses the line into sociopathy, the Kims are a loving family even if they behave in a morally dubious and often illegal fashion in order to scrape by as perpetual have-nots. And the Parks are not the kind of rich and privileged assholes that most movies would make them out to be (at least not for a while). Bong stages one memorable set piece after another that has you alternately laughing out loud and cringing in anticipation of where any scene might go, whether the family is rehearsing their invented personas in their shitty apartment ("Dad, you need to bring it down a little," Ki-woo advises the overacting Ki-taek), or when all four new hires are in the Park home going about their business and pretending they don't know one another and young Da-song loudly points out that they all smell the same ("Now we all have to start using different soap and detergent?" Chung-sook seethes). The house itself is also a significant character, as the camera glides along its long hallways and around its many corners, offering numerous hiding places and allowing Bong to take full advantage of the widescreen frame to demonstrate that the Parks, oblivious to everyday concerns in their life of luxury, have no idea what's going on in their own home (contrast that with the tight, cramped quarters of the Kims' basement apartment and the symbolic way they have to travel on downhill roads and down steep sidewalks and steps to get home). PARASITE is a brilliant film, in many ways a summation of Bong Joon Ho's career thus far, and absolutely deserving of all the accolades it's getting.



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