POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD!
Parasite is a strange film, though that can be said about all of Bong Joon Ho’s filmography. Much like his previous works, Parasite doesn’t fit into any established genre. Instead, it blends a domestic thriller, socially conscious commentary, dark comedy, tense heist, and bloody horror into some odd mutant hybrid.
This isn’t a criticism in any way. In fact it’s the complete opposite as not only is Parasite arguably 2019’s greatest film, it is the latest example of how Bong Joon Ho is his own genre and he is able to convey so much with his unorthodox approach.
The film tells the story of a zero-income family – middle-aged parents Kim Ki-taek and Choong-sook, and their 20 something children Kim Ki-woo and Kim Ki-jung – who are so far below the poverty line that they need to scab Wi-fi from the cafe next door just to check their phone messages.
Things take a turn when Ki-woo’s college friend offers him a lucrative gig as a tutor for a rich high school student. As he takes up his new job at the mansion of the upper-class Park family – Mr Park, his wife Yeon-kyo, their teenage daughter Da-hye, and their hyper-energetic son Da-song – Ki-woo sees his employers as a way to elevate his family’s social standing (hence Parasite, geddit?).
Parasite offers up a biting critique on the broken social system but without sacrificing the sympathy of any of the characters, and Bong’s seemingly unusual creative choices remain utterly brilliant. Some peaceful scenes are shot like a thriller to impart a sense of dread while others are cleverly limited in its framing to really hammer home themes like hierarchy and class.
But perhaps the aspect that stood out most to me was how Bong characterised the younger main characters in Parasite as savvy, competent people rather than their parents.
At a time when younger voices are being stymied by older generations who stubbornly refuse to cede power or listen to legitimate concerns, it is refreshing to see the older characters in Parasite take on more reactive roles.
The plan to infiltrate the Park family is the brainchild of Ki-woo and Ki-jung, both of whom carefully figure out every step of the ruse. Their parents on the other hand are nothing more than pawns in the whole thing and willingly go along with the plan without any questions.
When Ki-woo’s plan goes sideways due to the interference of an unexpected third party, Ki-taek claims to have his own plan to fix everything only to later reveal his “plan” was to basically wing it. It’s almost like Bong is telling the older generation to make way for younger folk because they have the answers to the problems being faced today.
As great of a commentary Parasite offers on themes like class, greed, and twisted social hierarchies, it is the subtle exploration into young people and the amount of stuff they can accomplish if they be given the power to do so that really stands out.
Bong has no problem showing people the ugly sides of life in his work, all of which is tinged with drips of cynicism. But the emphasis on Parasite‘s younger characters seemingly tells us that while Bong views the present as being messed up right now, he has a surprising amount of hope that the next generation can fix it.