Dirty Rotten Scoundrels re-imagined as a Korean class-warfare dramedy.
In a poor part of a South Korean city, the unemployed Kim family survives day-to-day any way they can in a dilapidated basement apartment. Their college-age son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-Shik) is approached one day by his wealthy friend Min-hyuk (Seo-joon Park) with an opportunity: take his place as an English tutor for Da-hye (Ji-so Jung), the teenage daughter of the Park family, keeping her away from other suitors until his return, not to mention drawing a good salary while there. After landing the job with the impressionable Mrs. Park (Choi Yeo-jeong), Ki-woo launches a plan to employ his sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam), father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), and mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) in the household as well. Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) is rich enough to afford all of them easily, so no harm, no foul… right?
Even when economic indicators present prosperity, it is often the case the poor see no such benefit. Whether a matter or circumstance or happenstance, a person takes pride in themselves and feels slighted when someone born with benefits sees the less fortunate as unworthy, or worse unseen. Writer/director Bong Joon Ho spins a yarn about a family who decide to use their powers of being overlooked to their own benefit and asks three important questions. Should a parasite get away with being parasitic if they go unnoticed? Do their victims deserve what is happening to them for failing to notice? And finally, what does a parasite deserve for being successful?
For the first half of the film, it’s masterful watching the Kims orchestrate their invasion into the home and bank accounts of the Parks, overcoming obstacles to change minds and win approval. It’s almost playful until it becomes diabolical… and right before everything goes wrong. How viewers empathize with the characters depends on how they relate to the Kims, the Parks, or somewhere in between. Friend or employee? Employee or enemy? A single event affecting both families exacerbates their shared situation until circumstances burn it down to its inevitable conclusion, and only then does Bong Joon Ho show exactly the cards he’s holding.
The Kims are shown as being both clever and resourceful; they’re good at what they do, but even better at convincing others of what they want to see. The problem arises maintaining the illusion and keeping up the lie while trying to enjoy the benefits of their scam. To the film’s credit, the details are all framework for a darker story in progress. You’ll believe there’s nothing this family wouldn’t do for each other — it’s the only thing of value they truly have — and that carries weight. In spite of one or two fantastic elements to the story, Parasite runs a gamut of emotions without overstaying its welcome.
At a recent awards show, the director was quoted as saying, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” As a suggestion, using closed-caption for English films can be beneficial (especially with too-quiet dialogue buried in the sound mix) while also making subtitles second nature; for a film like this, it’s worth building this skill. While end-of-year award seasons are often overstuffed with too many films to consider, a few gems rise to the surface, and it’s no accident this one is among them.
Parasite is rated R for language, some violence, sexual content, and what you don’t know absolutely being able to hurt you.
Four skull recommendation out of four
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