PARASITE – Review by Diane Carson

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Parasite attacks social inequality in South Korea.

South Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s Parasite lives up to its name, meaning that it feeds off several film genres while remaining impressively unique. As with his earlier works (The Host, Mother, Snowpiercer, and Okja), Bong embeds a biting social critique in a dynamic narrative with unexpected risks and satisfying surprises. In Parasite, social inequality and class collision take center stage.

The setup is smooth and amusing as the impoverished Kim family infiltrates the upper-class, snobby Park home by vicious subterfuge with serious consequences for previously employed staff. However, as events unfold, fortunes change. No spoilers here, but distressing violence will visit both families. Or, as director/screenplay writer Bong said at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, “Sometimes because of our situations, we just can’t grab a better life; the self would be destroyed by compromised actions.”

Bong also talked about the importance of the lavish Park house, a set designed for the garden to flow into the home’s first floor and to accommodate his blocking of characters who may or may not see others. In this way, secrets can be hidden. In stark contrast, the set for the poor Kims is a cramped, dirty basement where Ki-taek steals an internet signal by scrunching himself above the toilet. The satire is as merciless as it is illuminating, the living quarters figuring prominently in and commenting on the interaction.

In Bong’s films, every detail contributes to the cumulative effect: the rhythm of language and each character’s different delivery; art direction, especially color and hard vs. soft edges; and sound. Bong says his favorite production activity is the sound mixing that interprets every nuance. And he considers himself a genre filmmaker, especially crime thrillers and detective stories. He hastens to add that he never hesitates to break and escape genre conventions so that, through the cracks, he reveals contemporary society, rather, he says, “like sewage water.” That’s a perfect description of Parasite, winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. In Korean with English subtitles.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.