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Bong Joon-hos bizarre black comedy about a rich Korean family and a poor one in a modern-day Downton Abbey situation gets its tendrils in you
Bong Joon-ho has returned to Cannes with a luxuriously watchable and satirical suspense drama. It runs as purringly smooth as the Mercedes driven by the lead character, played by Korean star Song Kang-ho. Parasite is a bizarre black comedy about social status, aspiration, materialism and the patriarchal family unit, and people who accept the idea of having (or leasing) a servant class.
Parasite is about a wealthy Korean family in a modern-day Downton Abbey upstairs-downstairs situation, one far more unstable than the patrician caste realises. The film could perhaps be a bit more lean and mean, and deliver its jeopardy and payoff with more despatch. But it is an enjoyable, elegant, scabrous movie about a mix of servitude and trickery that is an interesting theme in Korean cinema.
The film, which is sumptuously designed, could be compared with, say, Park Chan-wooks The Handmaiden, an adaptation of the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Walters; and also Im Sang-sons 2010 Cannes entry The Housemaid, a remake of Kim Ki-Youngs classic Korean thriller from 1960. Also notable is the films focus on poverty, desperation and the phenomenon of those in debt having to vanish to escape creditors (also a theme in Lee Chang-dongs 2018 film Burning).
Song Kang-ho plays Ki-taek, a shiftless, unemployed man who lives in a chaotic, stinky and squalid basement with his wife, Chung-sook, his smart yet cynical twentysomething daughter, Ki-jung (Park So-dam), and son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik). They are all out of work and out of cash. Then Ki-woo gets a stroke of fortune: an old school-friend helps him get a lucrative tutoring job. With a fake college diploma created by Ki-jung, he shows up at the fabulously lavish home of the Park family, wealthy entrepreneur Mr Park (Lee Sun-kyun), his delicate, unworldly wife, Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), their teen daughter, Da-hye (Jung Ziso) and her wacky kid brother, Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun). They have a loyal, live-in housekeeper named Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee).
Likable Ki-woo is an instant hit with his new employers and his demure pupil Da-hye gets a real crush on him, which the coolly ruthless Ki-woo does nothing to discourage. Then the distrait lady of the house, Yeon-kyo, reveals that she also needs an art tutor for her young son, to mould his painting talents; Ki-woo suggests his sister (while concealing their relationship), and soon the brazen Ki-jung is also a success with these rich suckers. It looks as if the wealthy Parks could be a meal ticket for the whole crooked family, all pretending to be complete strangers to each other. But little-kid Da-song has noticed something that the grownups havent: why do these people smell the same?
The servant is someone with an intimate knowledge of his or her employer, and yet this intimacy is so easily and inevitably poisoned with resentment. There is a licensed transgression in servitude, and this transgression is nightmarishly amplified when it is a question of a entire family seeking to get up close and personal. The poorer family see themselves in a distorting mirror that cruelly reveals to them how wretched they are by contrast and reveals the riches that could and should be theirs. It is almost a supernatural or sci-fi story; an invasion of the lifestyle snatchers. Parasite gets its tendrils into you.