It is not easy to identify the protagonist of "Parasite", a complicated layered, grim-comic class-beating thriller by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, best known in the English-speaking world for the apocalyptic action hit "Snowpiercer" Where your compassion and compassion in this story of two interlocking families coincide at the other end of the South Korea society pyramid depends, at least in part, on your starting point. In addition, it is likely to move in the course of a deliberately confusing movie laden with setbacks, sudden asset reversals, moral issues, and unexpected revelations.
In the age of Netflix series and billionaire superhero eyewear, the formerly known as the "World Cinema" high-level cultural zone exists primarily as an echo of itself. But Bong's films are living genre mashups that are full of ideas and brilliant craftsmanship and elements from Hitchcock, Tarantino, the European art film and the melodramatic and / or violent traditions of Korean cinema, which are largely unknown in the US, merge with each other West.
"Parasite" won the Palme d'Or in Cannes this year ̵
Kim Ki-woo (played by Choi Woo-sik), a college-aged young man who is not in college and mockingly losers himself "in an early conversation with a richer friend. Ki-woo grabs a lifeline offered by this friend who wants to study in America and suggests that Ki-woo accepts his job as an English teacher for a rich girl. All he has to do is pretend to be something he is not – in this case bourgeois and educated – and the rest will take care of themselves.
Ki-woo also likes to identify events in the real world as metaphorical, "with the emptiness of a young man who grew up in social media to be both shrewd and completely unscrupulous. When I saw "Parasite" for the first time, I found that running was a bit too obvious, but the more I thought about it, the more I recognized the metaphorical use of "metaphorical" as part of Bongs ingenious design.
On the one hand, what happens to the Kim family, who is so poor that she lives literally underground in a rancid, insect-infested flat just below the street, has the quality of a fairytale. Ki-woo's magical friend not only gives him a job and entry point into an otherwise inaccessible world of wealth and privilege, but also a traditional stonework that aims to bring prosperity. On the other hand, all these things are metaphors: the underground dwelling, the stinkbugs, the missing American friend, the rich princess locked up in a castle, and the stone carving that does not bring any good, but somehow paves the way, cruel and ironic.
Yes, I said there was a princess in a castle. Ki-woo's English-speaking tutor brings him to the architect-designed house on a hilltop of the fabulously rich park family, whose young daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso) is immediately enthusiastic about him. (It's probably no coincidence that Kim and Park are very common Korean surnames, which is similar to having two Anglophone families named Smith and Johnson.) Da-hye's mother, Yeon-kyo (hilariously portrayed by Jo Yeo-jeong ), is itself a castle-princess of the adult strain, stunned by medication or mental illness or boredom or just too much money.
There are many things in "Parasite", including the bewildering nature of Yeon-kyo, that makes some viewers want to explain themselves better. For my money, Bong has a wonderful instinct to drive only on certain obvious action points, either because he thinks they are not important or he prefers to let us decide.
Some reviews indicate that the Kim family purposely invades the parking lot and conquers it as soon as Ki-woo comes through the door. In fact, this is not the case – or at least, if such a family conspiracy hatched, we do not see it. It just seems to be like a little parody of the old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist narrative: the inner logic of capitalism inevitably leads to class conflicts and then to revolution and then to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Human ability to act does not matter.
In the next phase, Ki-woo's teenage sister, the adorable amoral Ki-jung (Park So-dam), takes over the story and installs herself as "Jessica," the discerning, eccentric art teacher for Da-hy's little brother. Then they use various dirty tricks to drive the Park family chauffeur, and especially the longtime, distressed housekeeper (Lee Jeong-eun), who lived before the arrival of the parks and knows more about the house than anyone else. (I do not spend any spoilers here – but if you've ever seen a thriller with an omniscient housekeeper and suspect it might be important in the third act, you'd be right.)
In these roles, under false allusions, are the happy ones but defeated the Kim clan patriarch, Ki-taek (the great Korean character actor Song Kang-ho, featured in several other Bong films), and his Dynamo wife Chung-sook (Hyae Jin Chang), who may be the working class Lady Macbeth behind this whole plan. I say, could be – as mentioned above, Bong is not interested in detailing the why and how. It's all so metaphorical!
As the title of the film suggests, the kims almost obey the dictate of natural selection: the host organism exhibits a weak spot that allows infection; the parasite uses and invades. The Kims do not feel malicious about the parks, at least not at first. A parasite is unscrupulous and completely selfish, but not deliberately cruel. After all, if it destroys its host … well, you know the rest.
But from the beginning there is an unresolved and unanswered question about this film that drives it through various twists in the direction of a violent climax: who or what is the true parasite in this ecosystem? We never know why Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), husband and father of the park family, is so rich, and it seems the kims do not know or care. For everyone in "Parasite" is the degree of inequality that makes one family live in a walled modernist fantasy land, while another family lives far below in a basement that is literally flooded with shit (again, these metaphors !), Simply the natural order of things.
In fact, it is less true to call the invading Kim families "parasites" than to call them even less flattering: they are more like mice or cockroaches, trying to chew a little of the park's excess cheese, without this being noticed. But here Bong (who wrote the screenplay with Jin Won Han) goes back from metaphor to reality: after all, it's not vermin or hostile organisms, but people trapped in ecology with other people, cruelty to each other rewarded.  You will leave "Parasites" with the most solved plot puzzles, but certainly not all. (I have a clear opinion on the source of the odor Dong-ik is complaining about, but I still do not understand the recurrent drunken lout or the importance of the Taiwanese pastry shop.) Bong and his two families are coming to an end, maybe will offer a tiny, distant window of hope to Dostoevsky or maybe nothing but fantasy. It is not an easy journey, and as in life in the non-metaphoric world, the destination is uncertain. You will see strange and wonderful things along the way.
"Parasite" is currently seen in theaters in New York and Los Angeles and selected cities soon.