Parasite should put to rest any controversy that might have come with calling Joon-ho Bong a master film maker. The Host, Mother, Snowpiercer, Okja, and now Parasite all manage to be very different films, each mixing up different genre conceits with glee, and a profoundly humane perspective on their characters and narratives. He has somehow been able to make films that are extremely different from each other, and very recognizably Joon-ho Bong films simultaneously.
In this way, displaying again what seems to almost be an allergy to dehumanizing his characters to any degree, and still telling deeply heartfelt and immensely entertaining stories, Parasite fits right in with the rest of his filmography. There are no villains in this film though. There aren’t any heroes either. There is no attempt to hide the fact that Parasite is very much about class dynamics in the modern world, but it also avoids any sense of being a polemic.
Parasite is genuinely great cinema. Full stop. It’s the best of Joon-ho Bong’s films, and even as I haven’t made it to theaters as often as I’d have liked this year, if it’s possible this isn’t one of the best films of the year, and the decade, I’ve missed a lot.
There is streak of very dark humor running through the film, but unlike so much satire, it isn’t mean. All of the central characters are deeply flawed, but while the film finds humor in the absurdity of their flaws, at no point does it’s perspective on them become insulting. What might be most amazing about it is that it does not shy away from presenting a profound comment on economic inequality, it does so with a deep commitment to respecting the humanity of all of it’s characters. The best and worst qualities of every character in the film is rooted in their experience with class systems.
There is some genius in the writing of this film. It takes the structure of the con artist genre which is often both blockbuster and Oscar bait, and builds this story about class on that framework. It’s a reinvention of the genre and its tropes that is far beyond anything we’ve seen done in decades. These aren’t people running a con to make millions of dollars or steal some famous and incredibly expensive piece of jewelry or tech. They’re just trying to make a living, and the circumstances of capitalism and inequality are such that the kind of con they’re running is inventive, but it’s also not only slightly beyond what we see good people doing to get by, every single day. At no point does the film seem to take a side as to whether or not this con is good or bad. The individual choices along the way definitely have consequences, but it never wags its finger and decides to call the characters committing the con terrible people.
It all builds to a climax that is shocking and gripping. The suspense and tension it builds in reaching that climax, in a short period of time, is deeply impressive. All of the pieces start moving into place, and if you’re at all familiar with the way narrative storytelling works, especially in a film as deeply connected to the con artist genre as this is, you can see and feel the climax is coming. I’d call bullshit on anyone who said they saw it all playing out the way it does, and it never feels cheap or like some kind of cheap narrative trick. It’s earned and feels organic when it happens.
Parasite is great cinema. It’s often funny, thought provoking, fun, warm and sharp, intelligent commentary that doesn’t pull punches. It’s a feat of creative imagination to have conceived this screenplay, and nearly awe inspiring to see it executed so deftly on film. If Joon-ho Bong retired tomorrow, I’d completely understand why. This is as close as film gets to executing a complex idea and narrative perfectly. I don’t know that I’d want to have to find a way to follow this if I had made it. I hope he doesn’t make that decision though, because as much as I love The Host and I thoroughly enjoyed Snowpiercer, Mother and Okja, Parasite puts him right near the top of the list of the directors I most respect and whose work I will most excitedly be looking forward to.
Go see this movie in theaters if it is playing anywhere near you. Do it ASAP.