Warning: this review contains spoilers.
In the history of the Academy Awards, only one non-English language film has ever won Best Picture. That film is Parasite.
Parasite (or 기생충 in its original Korean), a South Korean thriller and dark comedy, directed by Bong Joon-ho, won the most awards of any movie at the 92nd Academy Awards, bagging Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. It is also the first South Korean film to receive Academy Award recognition of any kind.
The film opens with the Kims bemoaning the loss of their free WiFi network, showing the family’s poverty, as the father, Ki-taek, insists on leaving the windows open for fumigation to rid their apartment of stinkbugs.
Everything changes for the Kim family when Min-hyuk, a friend of the Kim’s son, Ki-woo, gives them a scholar’s rock that promises wealth to those who possess it. At Min-hyuk’s insistence, Ki-woo finds himself falsely claiming to be a university student and then a tutor to the wealthy Park family’s daughter. One by one, the Kims infiltrate the Park household. Their entangled web of lies comes to a head when the Kims unravel secrets about the Park family’s other employees.
Parasite maintains a tongue-in-cheek, and, occasionally, inappropriate sense of humor, transitioning to harrowing intensity in a manner so seamless it is near-perfect. More than that, it is rife with class struggle and financial inequality. Often, the Kims and others of low status descend steps, while the Parks repeatedly ascend steps-reflecting their higher position over the employees.
Entertaining in the first hour, the film turns on you. The shot of the mother running down a set of stairs to find the former housekeeper’s husband in the basement–apparently living there this whole time–is anxiety-inducing to the extreme. It does not keep a consistent atmosphere of dread but intersperses a false sense of security with scenes and imagery intense enough to bring viewers to tears.
The end of the film is the stuff of nightmares. Ki-woo is bludgeoned with the scholar’s rock; his sister Ki-jung is stabbed, and the Park’s young son suffers a stress-induced seizure. In a final symbolic act, Mr. Park holds his nose close to Mr. Kim, a repeated gesture of ill will towards the Kim’s low social status . . . and smell from living in a basement. Fed up, Mr. Kim kills him.
In the past few years, the quality of thriller films has skyrocketed. With A24 producing such greats as Hereditary and Midsommar, and Jordan Peele creating both Get Out and Us, Parasite faced competition.
Enigmatic, Parasite has the audience in stitches for the first half, but within seconds it instills a sense of dread so complete it is unexplainable. Be warned: in every sense the film earns its R rating.
If you can make it past the barrier of reading English subtitles for 2 hours, this film is an experience you might never forget.
Although you could go your whole life without seeing a shot of a cat eating sausages off of a skewer still embedded in a man’s side, you should probably take that chance.
Parasite can be rented or purchased via Amazon Prime Video.
Its running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.