(Directed by Bong Joon-ho) (2019)
Mercury Cinema, OzAsia Festival, Adelaide, October 2019
Parasite begins as broad comedy, turns dark, and ends in ambiguity. The down-at-heel Kim family, ‘semi’ basement dwellers living in squalor, inveigle themselves, one by one, into the retinue of the rich and flashy Park family. The machinations by which they become attached, in turn, as tutor, art therapist, chauffeur and housekeeper are amusingly (though improbably) done. (We particularly liked the references to over-hyped abstract expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat, the ‘artist’ referenced by Kim’s ‘art-expert’ daughter after a brief surf on Google).
For a while, all is well, and the Kims are living it up, at home and at the Park’s ritzy minimalist mansion, although there are the odd upstairs-downstairs irritations. But then the former housekeeper they squeezed out comes calling, the Parks return from a holiday inconveniently early, and – like Million Dollar Baby – the story transforms from a robust and knowing amusement into a Tarantino-esque horror show.
The film is superbly made – it looks a treat, and the cast is uniformly terrific – a special shout out for Song Kang Ho as the dodgy head of the Kim family, and Cho Yeo-jeong as the glib and overly trusting Mrs Park.
There’s an obvious social sub-text here, contrasting the ways in which the affluent feed off the poor (and, such as in films like The Servant, vice-versa), and a fair bit of the film, possibly too much, contains metaphors in the service of that sub-text. And some of the relationship dynamics are overheated. But these do not detract from the richness of the piece, which never descends to the didactic. The Varnished Culture felt the end to be both poignant and just. Parasites abound, and they get under the skin with great ingenuity, as did this film.