We're getting to that point in the year where certain movies will start getting buzz that seems to be putting them on a path to awards season. Inevitably, not all of the movies that are brought to the public consciousness using said buzz as a platform always deliver on the hype. Parasite, the latest from director Bong Joon-ho, has been subject to that very type of hype following its debut at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Palme d'Or award. I'm here to tell you, in my humble opinion, that the hype is very real for this one. Believe it, because this may well be a modern masterpiece.
Parasite centers on the Kim Family, who love one another and have street smarts, but are on hard times financially. As fate would have it, the Kim children are one day handed a golden opportunity by a family friend to become tutors to the children of the wealthy Park family. The Kims aren't necessarily qualified, traditionally speaking, for the job, but their savvy nature allows them to skate by. Quickly, a symbiotic relationship is formed between the two families, with the Kims providing services while the Parks bankroll their entire household. However, things get complicated when this arrangement is threatened and a battle for dominance breaks out that threatens to unravel this ecosystem the Kims have established.
First thing's first, saying too much about Parasite would be a disservice to the potential viewer. It's a movie that one thinks is going to be one thing and become something else entirely. It's truly unpredictable and masterfully executed. It, in a strange way, is almost like a perfectly crafted heist movie. Every little piece has to be precisely moved into place and it all must come together in just such a way for the big payoff to work out. Parasite's payoff is one for the ages.
I don't watch a ton of foreign movies. I'm aware that I'm missing out on a lot because of it. That having been said, one of the most amazing things about Parasite is that it's a Korean movie that's themes are entirely universal and speak to me, very specifically, as an American. I'm certain I'm not alone. This is, more or less, an examination of the haves and have nots in this world. It's been done plenty of times before, but never like this. The way in which the dichotomy between the upper and lower class is explored here is truly something and winds up being deeply affecting, I imagine for anyone no matter where they exist in the socioeconomic scale. While the movie deals with heavy themes, it should be noted that it's loaded with levity and is a brisk, pleasurable watch. It's not at all daunting.
I'm fully aware that just hinting at something being a masterpiece before it's even been released in theaters can come off as pompous. Fair enough. That said, there is a level of craft and storytelling here that feels impossible to fight. Bong Joon-ho, the man behind Snowpiercer and The Host, amongst others, has reasonably asserted himself as one of our great filmmakers and this is him taking everything he's learned and telling a resonant tale in a way perhaps only he could.
To put it another way, Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, a movie about a lady falling in love with a fish person, won Best Picture at the Oscars. The movie certainly isn't for everyone, but there's a difference between something not being for you and something being bad, or not all it's cracked up to be. At worst, I think Parasite may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's cinema as art in its highest form, while sacrificing nothing in the entertainment department. Parasite arrives from Neon on October 11.