Believe the hype, I guess. Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite is the masterpiece it has been called.
Kim Ki-taek lives with his family, wife Chung-Sook and children Ki-woo and Ki-jung, in a part basement apartment. Largely unemployed, they work part-time folding cardboard boxes for a local pizza restaurant. Thanks to the recommendation of a family friend, Ki-woo gets a job as a tutor for the daughter of a rich family, the Parks. After overhearing the rich mother talking about needing an art teacher for her son, he suggests a friend of his, Jessica. There is no Jessica, instead his sister Ki-jung poses as an art tutor, and art therapist, to get a job with the family. Soon, all four family members are working for the Park family. That is when things really get weird.
Parasite sets up a poor versus rich parable. It puts you on the side of the poor family, as they work whatever menial jobs they can get, as they huddle around their elevated toilet to snag the wifi signal from a nearby cafe, and as they leave their windows open as exterminators spray the streets to get rid of the bugs infesting their hovel. The literally live below ground, in a semi-basement. You see how little they have.
That is contrasted with the Park family, with their elegant, elevated townhouse. That family is so well off that they are essentially inventing problems to solve. While the movie puts the viewer in the corner of the Kims, it does not demonize their victims. The Parks are oblivious and careless, not vicious. The father’s seem to get along when Ki-taek is driving, but at home it is clear that Mr. Park does care at all for his driver. Ki-woo and his pupil Da-hye have a romance, but when the Parks throw a party and he looks out over the rich, well dressed guests and wonders aloud if he fits in, she clearly has never even considered the question. The Parks are not evil, they are simply unable to see outside of their own sphere. They never look below them.
Parasite does an amazing job of juggling tones. In my admittedly limited experience, Korean movies tend to be elastic with tones and it can be disorienting. Bong Joon-Ho’s previous movie, Okja, did this as well. Parasite managed to vary tones while keeping a feeling of consistency. It is often very funny. It is also frequently tragic, or poignant. It is sometimes scary. The movie jumps from one to the other with amazing deftness, flipping from hilarious to sad and back again in a few seconds.
I am trying not to spoil much of what actually happens in the movie, but Parasite is easily one of the best movies of the year. It starts as one thing, a simple sort of heist movie, then morphs into something else about midway and never looks back. It is stunning.