Much has been made of Bong Joon-ho’s genre hybridity, or rather his “genre unto self” mythos—the director himself has referred to it as an ambiguity of genre. At the risk of belaboring this idea, Parasite is a perfect example of Bong’s ability to elude the walls of genre. The film has flashes of gritty horror and a pervading sense of Hithcockian suspense, as well as tropes of the family drama and social problem film (used in entirely unconventional ways). A premise hinging on gaslighting adds a psychological layer on top. And a somewhat bitter sense of humor provides a dark comedy element.
What makes the film so extraordinary (in part) is the ease by which these diverse genres intersect to create a fully-realized comic drama with rich characters and a compelling narrative. While drawing on the familiar, Parasite becomes something unique and awe-inspiring.
Parasite centers on a lower-class family—they live in a “semi-basement” and look for whatever work they can find, including a gig folding pizza boxes as a family. The son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), lands a job tutoring for the daughter of the wealthy Park family. From here, he births a plan. He manipulates his way into a tutoring job for his sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam), who talks her way into a job for her father (Song Kang-ho), and so on.
It is a pseudo-grift, in that it involves plenty of deception and lying, but it also gives the family honest work. And it is work that the Park family takes for granted. The clashing dynamic between the two families is matched with the distinct personalities that Bong imbues them with. There is a humorous naivete to the Park family, particularly the matriarch Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-jeong). There is also a world-weariness to the Kims, particularly in Song’s Ki-taek.
The tensions caused by this disparity of tone, personality, and class give Parasite a sense of life and energy that is palpable. From this we get a social commentary which is at times bitter, but we also get a sense of humor which is infectious. We get characters which are sympathetic with ease, and we get a story which is thoroughly compelling until the very last frame.
Parasite feels like Bong’s masterpiece, a complete vision of his apparent artistic goal: to provide an audience with entertainment, emotion, and thought-provoking realism. But it also comes off as effortless. There is a matter-of-factness to the film; it is beautifully-constructed but also pushes back against any desire to be showy. The story makes the film, but the style is also a work of art. The two mesh into a synchronous rhythm that is transfixing.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)