Movie Review

What our film critic really thinks about Oscar Best Picture winner, 'Parasite'

'Parasite' has made history as the first film in a foreign language to win the Academy Award's top prize. But does it live up to the hype?

13 October 2019 - 00:00
Jo Yeo-jeong as Park Yeon-Kyo in Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite'.
Jo Yeo-jeong as Park Yeon-Kyo in Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite'.
Image: Supplied

South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho has, over the course of the past decade and a half, carved himself a distinctive space in world cinema with his genre-bending satires and dissections of class difference.

His last two films - Snowpiercer and Okja - were made in the US and received less enthusiastically than they should have been.

With his latest film, Parasite, Bong returns to Korea and produces a film that's so unusual, ambiguous and full of zany twists and comic turns that it's been the darling of the festival circuit and critics since it won Cannes's top prize in 2019. It also took home the Oscar for Best Picture on Sunday — the first film in a foreign language to ever do so in the Academy Award's 92-year history.

OSCARS WON BY 'PARASITE'

• Best Director

• Best Picture

• Best Original Screenplay

• Best Foreign Language Film

Like Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodovar, Bong is a cinephile director with a particular talent for mashing elements from different film influences together in a genre-crushing style that makes him a genre unto himself.

Parasite is no exception - veering between slapstick comedy, social satire, home-invasion thriller, psychological suspense and tragic melodrama, all deftly and brilliantly held together by its director's single-minded vision and masterful control.

It's the story of a poor family led by longtime Bong collaborator Song Kang-ho, who plays slacker patriarch Kim Ki-Taek. He and his cunning wife Chung-Sook (Jang Hye-jin), their booksmart but too-poor-to-attend- university son Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-shik) and their creative and computer-skilled daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) eke out a subsistence existence folding pizza boxes and stealing the local coffee shop's WiFi from their basement tenement flat.

When a friend of Ki-Woo asks him to take over his English tutor job for a rich family, the Kims use the opportunity to insert themselves into the rich family's life - getting Ki-jung hired as an art therapist for the family's son, getting rid of the driver and replacing him with Dad and removing the family's long-serving housekeeper and putting Chung-Sook in her place.

With the rich Park family now happily relying on the services of the Kims - whom they don't realise are all related - the stage is set for a long and bountiful inter-class relationship that the Kims hope will be their ticket out of the basement and into the suburbs. But this is a Bong film, not a Disney fairy tale and so, with increasing maniacal intensity, things begin to horrifyingly unravel.

WATCH | The trailer for 'Parasite'

By the time the madness of the final resolution hits you with its ultra-violence and hysterical absurdity, the film has morphed from a sometimes obvious parable about the co-dependent relationship between the haves and the have-nots, into a layered and thoughtful examination of the social ladder. 

Your loyalties are challenged: it's not as clear cut as choosing a side and believing that the parasites of the title are either the underclass or the upperclass. Instead, the hollowness of late capitalism is the ultimate enemy of us all no matter which rung on the ladder we occupy.

Beautifully shot, excellently acted and thoroughly controlled by its director, it will leave you puzzling out its many points long after it has ended. And yes, it's a rare case of a film that so many are already hailing as a masterpiece actually living up to the title.