The con is on in this masterful tale from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho who made a big splash with 2007’s “The Host.”
In his new film, the host happens to be the wealthy Park family who becomes invaded by a parasite known as the impoverished Kim family. The Cannes Palme d’Or-winning film is filled with twists and turns executed to a tee by the superb cast. Bong and Han Jin-won easily deliver the best original screenplay of the year as “Parasite” deftly balances humor with tension.
Bong regular Song Kang-ho plays the Kim family patriarch Ki-Taek who always has a plan to get his wife, Chung Sook, (Jang Hye Jin) and two grown children, Ki-Woo (Choi Woo Shik) and Ki-Jeong (Park So Dam), their next hot meal and free Wi-Fi.
The windows in the family’s small Seoul basement apartment are street level, which is good when the exterminator comes around to spray insecticide in the air to control the stink bug infestation (Ki-Taek instructs them to keep the windows open for free apartment fumigation). It’s also bad when they get front row seats to the neighborhood drunk’s regular ritual of urinating and/or puking.
Since all four members of the Kim family are unemployed, they’re always looking for the next hustle. In this case, it’s assembling hundreds of pizza boxes for a local restaurant. But when Ki-Woo’s college friend Min (Seo-joon Park) shows up bearing an ancient stone that brings wealth and prosperity, the Kim family’s luck is about to change.
It seems that Min is going away to continue his education, but he’s fallen for Da-Hye (Jung-Hye), a high school sophomore he tutors for the wealthy Park family. He recommends Ki-Woo as his replacement to the gullible Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) to ensure that no horny college kid tries to make a move on his girl. Just like that, Ki-Woo is in and, of course, Da-Hye immediately falls for her new tutor.
When Mrs. Park, impressed by Ki-Woo’s tutoring skills, mentions that she’s looking for an art instructor for her young son, Da-Song (Jung Hyeon Jun), because none of his past instructors were able to see the true potential in the budding Picasso (because he sucks), a light bulb goes off in Ki-Woo’s head and he mentions his acquaintance with a high-priced exclusive art therapist who may be available.
Unbeknownst to Mrs. Park, he’s talking about his sister, Ki-Jeong (Park So Dam), who googles “art therapy” to prepare for her interview, and just like that, she’s hired.
So now, two members of the Kim family are employed by the Parks, which causes Ki-Woo to devise a plan to get the chauffeur replaced by his father Ki-Taek and longtime housekeeper Moon-gwang (Jeong Eun Lee) replaced by mother, Chung Sook.
The first half of “Parasite” is filled with humorous moments as these grifters infiltrate the wealthy family. But in the second act, Bong takes the audience on a detour that’s brimming with heartache, anxiety and a blood-soaked finale. The twists and turns are executed so impeccably that it feels like we are being hoodwinked as the film wanders into dark territory.
Last year, “Roma” became the 11th foreign-language film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination, but it lost the top honor to “Green Book.” Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” could possibly become the first foreign film to take home the top prize as it continues to break box office records.
Inspired by Bong’s experiences as a college tutor for a rich family, “Parasite” is the perfect example of a filmmaker who has mastered his craft. The film’s pacing and editing combined with the best original screenplay of the year and a superb cast make this a flawless film that keeps you enthralled for its entire 132-minute running time.