The Kim family (Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Chang Hyae-jin, Song Kang-ho) scratch a living in their tiny basement apartment and enjoy getting drunk on cheap lager. But when son Ki-woo gets a job tutoring for a stinking rich family, the Kims see an opportunity to cash in by replacing all their domestic staff one by one.
Parasite is a remarkably good film from Bong Joon-ho, director of Snowpiercer, managing to dart between edge-of-your-seat tension, laugh-out-loud hilarity and jaw-dropping story twists without ever losing its sense of unity. And while it has shocking moments, it’s not a relentless torrent of Park Chan-wook style ultra-misery.
Like Snowpiercer it has a strong class dynamic, but is far more nuanced, with all characters possessing a moral ambiguity which precludes heroes and villains. In these ways it’s also similar to Us, and while the two families aren’t doppelgangers of each other, their similarities are apparent in spite of their material disparity.
The host family, the Parks (Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jeong Ji-so, Jung Hyeon-jun), aren’t bad people, they’re just oblivious to those less fortunate themselves. And it’s easy to see how the Kims are tempted towards unscrupulous behaviour in their desperation, taking a succession of small steps from mild dishonesty to a bizarre bind which demands drastic action. And they’re still not the most reprehensible Kim family out there.
The cinematography is outstanding, particularly the spacious, angular luxury of the Park house where most of the action takes place. Bong shows impeccable spatial awareness and uses airy rooms and cramped claustrophobia to bring home the contrast in the two families’ lives. It’s accompanied by an excellent soundtrack of minimalist piano music and baroque violins that seem to embody the house, which feels like a character in its own right. This results in a superb film which ticks multiple boxes and marks out Bong as South Korea’s finest new export.