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Sunday 6 October 2019

Parasite, Film (2019), Korea, written and directed by Bong Jun-Ho, 9.5* out of 10

Parasite is a bizarre, at times funny, at times horrifying story about rich and poor in developed societies coming into ever-closer proximity, developing an uneasy familiarity which breeds increasing contempt. What starts as dark humour moves seamlessly on to bloody violence and melodrama. Parasite is a satirical portrait of Korean, but not only Korean, contemporary society with apocalyptic overtones. It deservedly won the prestigious Palme d'Or Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

An impoverished family consisting of father (Song Kang-ho) mother, daughter (Park So-dam) and son (Choi Woo-sik) lives hand-to-mouth in a stinking basement in Seoul. They jump at every opportunity to gain access to free resources and make money with piece work such as folding pizza boxes for pennies here and there. Despite their poverty and poor living conditions they are all clever, resourceful and remain optimistic about chances for survival and perhaps even escaping their destitute state.

When the son who is in his twenties gets the opportunity to become an English tutor to a teenager living with her parents and young brother in a classy modern designer home, he jumps at it. Soon, with guile and deception, he manages to find jobs for other members of his family. To do so, plans of getting the current incumbents of domestic jobs removed from their positions must be conceived and executed. The result is an extreme, modern form of masters and servants (think Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey) adapted for the 21st century. Likeable scoundrels are constructing an economic ladder for themselves by clever planning and teamwork and progressively make themselves indispensable to their new rich patrons. Yet what starts as a comedy, becomes an increasingly dramatic, dark and violent satire about the inevitably violent consequences of physically close coexistence of people across extreme wealth gaps.

As Bong-Joon-Ho's bizarre story moves eclectically from one genre to another the viewer is drawn into a rollercoaster ride of emotions from laughter to horror, from melodrama to tragedy with vivid depictions of the rich and the poor parts of society. The unsuspecting viewer will be drawn into the story with humour and at a pleasant pace. Director Bong-Joon-Ho and his talented ensemble of actors take us along for the ride with attractive photography and filmography showing worlds of poverty and wealth coexisting in ever closer proximity until it is too late for them and us to disengage, even though at a certain point we would like to. 

This is a captivating and unusual portrayal of unequal societies in the developed world where members of what used to be the middle class fall into destitution while watching others close-up living lives of increasingly untold wealth and luxury. So, in a world where we are told that middle-class families can achieve a reasonable standard of living what happens when the promise is broken for many and exceeded for a few. Parasite presents satirically and tragically apocalyptic vision. Parasite is a memorable high-quality film that makes for at times difficult yet compulsive viewing.

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