Movie Review: Parasite

Parasite is a heist movie. A heist-goes-wrong movie. A heist-goes-grisly movie.

And nearly all of it is hilarious. Cutely hilarious, cleverly hilarious, darkly hilarious.

Parasite is the story of a smart-but-poor family who manage to parlay a part-time job recommendation into employment for all four of them, in service of a rich family with a beautiful house. What starts as fudged credentials turns into a full-on con job and infiltration mission, the same sort of thing you’d see in, well, a heist movie. But then it doesn’t stop: the universe throws a few curveballs, and the family ends up in some very uncomfortable situations—some humorous and some deadly serious.

The movie’s very well-made. A number of the jokes are the “scene goes on slightly too long” type, or the “something is happening off to the side in this shot” type; a number of the serious parts are distorted echoes of some lighter moment that happened earlier in the movie.

What I struggle with is taking away some sort of message. It’s definitely some kind of critique of capitalism, showing what not one but two poor families have chosen to do to try to survive. It’s probably also a commentary on South Korean culture, but I’m not enough of an expert there to be sure. But I don’t exactly know if there’s anything to conclude from it. (Of course, I’m upper-middle-class myself…)

Or was Bong Joon-ho just trying to entertain, and I’m reading too much into it?

Because the story is about the poor family infiltrating and creeping into the rich house, it seems very obvious that Parasite refers to the poor family, and I think that’s why the marketing team was a little hesitant. But if you look at it the other way, you can say that rich family, they’re also parasites in terms of labor. They can’t even wash dishes, they can’t drive themselves, so they leech off the poor family’s labor. So both are parasites.

(from IGN’s interview with Bong, via Wikipedia)

Well, okay then.

On a cultural note, I did want to call out one interesting moment: when Ki-woo (“Kevin”) brings his sister Ki-jeong a bottle of sparkling water while she’s in the bath. It’s a bubble bath, and he rolls it to her from across the room, but still. I feel like that’d be considered an intrusion by the average American with a different-gender sibling—or maybe just the average white American with a different-gender sibling. (For me it’d be weird for anyone in my family. I don’t have a sister.) In the Kim siblings’ case, though, it was a complete non-issue. I wonder if that’s a Korean thing, or if it’s because they grew up poor and thus were always in close quarters anyway, or if it’s just me.

I did think the ending was a bit weak—the hospital part onward. It was a tidy little puzzle for us to solve, but I’m not sure it actually added anything. I do appreciate that there was a “life just keeps going” aspect, but…well, maybe the aspirational letter than Ki-woo writes is supposed to underscore how they ended up no better off than when they started. (There, I think that’s vague enough to not count as a spoiler.)

So overall, do I recommend Parasite? I think so. It’s a movie to see if you like heists and black comedy with a dash of cultural critique, with the caveat that there is some blood-drawing physical violence in the second half. More than you’d expect from the premise and the first half.

Oh, and it was fun whenever my limited Korean allowed me to actually understand something. Which was pretty rare.