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Review: ‘Parasite’ Is Why We Go to the Movies

November 18, 2019

The drama directed by Boon Joon Ho is one of this year’s must-see films.

By Andrew Warrick

Featured photo via Neon Pictures

“Parasite” should be seen by everyone. Directed by Boon Joon Ho (“Okja”), the movie is a masterpiece, one of the films this era will be remembered by. It’s heartwarming, horrific and hilarious, sometimes all at once. Its characters are for the ages, each and every one dripping with complexity and emotion. Long after the credits roll, these faces will linger.

It begins with the Kims, an impoverished family in South Korea. They live in a small, grimy semi-basement home in an overcrowded neighborhood where drunks regularly urinate on the street. Finding employment is nearly impossible, and the Kims struggle to afford the basics. Ki-Woo, the eldest son (played by Choi Woo-sik, “Okja”) is given an amazing opportunity when his better-off friend Min convinces the Parks, a wealthy family, that he is a college-educated English tutor. Ki-Woo forges the necessary paperwork and, after a stellar interview, is hired.

After Ki-Woo gets the job, he recommends his sister, Ki-Jeong (Park So-dam, “Ode to the Goose”) for another tutoring position, pretending she is a mutual friend who was educated in the USA. Their mother (Lee Jeong-eun, “Okja”) and father (Song Kang-ho, “Snowpiercer”) soon join the Park estate too as housekeeper and driver, pretending to be experienced, educated candidates. Like the best cinematic cons, it all unfolds in delicious, unexpected perfection.

The Kims leech their way into the Parks’ home, and immediately reap the benefits of their new jobs. It’s not that simple, though — not everything is as it seems in the Park household. Its secrets will terrify.

The Kims burrow deeper into their lies until there is no possible way to escape them. When the plot turns, they have no choice but to fight for their fabricated lives any way they can. The ending is so intense that some in the sold-out theatre actually screamed.

“Parasite” is a tragedy in the tradition of the classic Greek and Shakespeare masterpieces. Where most well known tragedies involve kings and their courts, though, “Parasite” takes on class division. It’s a universally human conflict that applies to anyone, making its Korean setting unimportant. This violence could take place anywhere. The poor take advantage of the well off just to survive, but find their plans spinning out of control.

Boon Joon Ho is one of the greatest writer-directors working today. The camerawork is stellar, drifting through sunny hallways and down dark stairwells, from agonized faces to blissful, ignorant ones. He hones in on the most vital aspect of every scene, manipulating emotions like only the best storytellers can.

His amazing characters make every choice matter, and the thrills never come cheap. One becomes so tied up in the conflict that every outcome seems like a bad one. In “Parasite,” the terms “heroes” and “villains” are moot. People want better lives and will do whatever they can to get them. This doesn’t make them monsters — this makes them human.

Never has a film so brutally juxtaposed the polar ends of the economic spectrum, from sparkling modernist homes to basements swimming in overflowed sewage. Ho shows the viewer what the Kims are trying to escape, making their successes triumphant and their setbacks almost physically painful. When their decisions become increasingly desperate, and even possibly horrifying, the viewer is almost made complicit. If these are the people we’re rooting for, what does that say about us? What has the world made us into?

Don’t be intimidated by the subtitles. If one hasn’t seen a foreign film, “Parasite” should be the first. It’s why we go to the movies, to see the highs and lows of humanity on the silver screen. You will weep, you will laugh and you will scream. It’s insanely entertaining and always has another trick up its sleeve.

Earlier this year, “Parasite” won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, or golden palm, the highest ranking award for the prestigious festival. It will undoubtedly be on the Oscar shortlist, too. This is wonderful cinema and shouldn’t be missed.

Andrew Warrick is a student at the University of Michigan. He is majoring in creative writing and history, and is a part of the Residential College. He also leads the RC’s Creative Writing Forum. When not watching movies, he loves hanging out with friends, especially in the spectacular Ann Arbor, becoming addicted to novels, and listening to Bowie records. Some of his favorite movies are “Cloud Atlas,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Twin Peaks: The Return,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Alien.”

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