Grifter stories are always fun, as they invite audiences to ride along with the con through its twists and turns. Bong Joon-ho has turned the genre on its head with Parasite, another of his films that refuses to adhere to any one specific tone.
Parasite tells the story of a family – father, mother, son, daughter – that live in a cramped, crowded sub-basement, making a paltry living folding pizza boxes and trying to scam free WiFi from their neighbors. When the son gets a gig teaching English to the daughter of a rich family, the marks are made and the family moves in to extract as much as they can.
If Parasite were only this thread of outwitting the hapless wealthy Park family, it would still be a hoot. Thanks to Bong’s brilliant maneuvering, the film becomes far darker, and at the same time far more broadly comedic. These disparate elements should conflict, but somehow the collision of violence, psychological terror, the inspection of social injustice, and the cat-and-mouse elements of a chase film all coalesce brilliantly.
It’s quite an impressive magic trick to pull off, and the film feels like Bong’s most accomplished yet. There’s plenty to parse, particularly with regard to the moral relativism of the characters and the broader implications for the divides in Korean society. The film’s contradictions are upended throughout, so the simplistic, binary differentiators are mixed up as things get ever more complicated.
Parasite is a blast. The film uses humor, guile, and malice to tell a wonderfully offbeat tale. It’s incredible how well all these contradictory elements can cohere so perfectly in one movie, but the end result is a truly exceptional film.