Grade: A-
Entire family: No
Comedy, crime thriller
2019, 132 min., Color
Universal
Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Korean DTS-HDMA 5.1 (or dubbed English 2.0)
Bonus features: C-
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

Parasite is a South Korean black comedy with English subtitles that was among my Top Five films for 2019, along with Jojo Rabbit, 1917, Knives Out, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Directed by Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer), the Korean film focuses on a poor family that plots to sponge off of a rich family.

The structure is classic, with one small act leading to another, and another, growing larger each time. Before you watch, it’s okay to look up “parasite” in the dictionary and discover something like this: “an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense.” In fact, Bong counts on the association, if the audience is really going to appreciate his film. But if you’re not a fan of spoilers, stay away from the encyclopedia or specific case histories of certain parasites like mistletoe. Wait until after you’ve seen Parasite and then read up. It will make the film resonate all the more.

The Kim family struggles to get by. They live in a basement apartment in a crappy neighborhood where people urinate outside their window. The first hint of their parasitic nature is that they’re tapped into other people’s wifi. Father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), college-age son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and college-age daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) are all unemployed and have only temporary jobs that bring in just a little money as the family struggles to get by.

Their fortunes change when Ki-woo’s educated friend, who is leaving Korea to study abroad, gives the family a scholar’s rock intended to bring wealth. That rock starts to work its magic almost immediately, for as the young men are talking it occurs to Ki-woo’s friend that he could pose as a university student to take over his job as a private English tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family.

Fake it till you make it.

That’s the Kim family motto, at least in this film. When Ki-woo interviews, he lays it on thick and impresses the mother, who does the hiring. And before you know it, like a mistletoe seed that germinates on the branch of a host tree—usually an oak, on the north (shady) side—this parasite continues to grow, feeding off the host.

Parasite won the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture, and just as the four actors playing the Kim family capture the relational dynamic in all its complexity, the four actors (yes, there’s a one-on-one correspondence) playing the rich Park family manage to channel the sophistications, subtle prejudices, and indulgences of the upper class, with Lee Sun-kyun playing the workaholic father, Cho Yeo-jeong as the confident yet self-doubting mother who runs the household, Jeong Ji-so as the daughter just this side of rebellious, and Jung Hyon-jun as the young son.

But Bong’s film isn’t just a fascinating human variation on the cycle of parasites found in nature. It’s also a thriller, full of deceptions, blackmail, betrayal, displacements, and yes, some violence—bloody violence of the extreme Quentin Tarantino sort. Because of the latter, the R-rated Parasite is only a film for families with older teenage children. It’s a sophisticated thriller that’s full of surprises and rich with complexity, and that makes it satisfying to watch on a number of levels. To say any more is to give away as many spoilers as you might find in the encyclopedia under “parasite.” It’s better to see for yourselves.

Parasite won the Palm D’Or at Cannes, Best Motion Picture-Foreign Language at the Golden Globes, and was voted Best Picture of 2019 by the Online Film Critics Society, of which I’m a member. Though an English dubbed version is provided, watch it in the original Korean with English subtitles to get the full impact of this talented group of actors.

Language: The f-bomb is tossed around several dozen times, along with lesser numbers of more moderate swearwords

Sex: A man and woman are shown in foreplay and there’s fondling with a brief nipple flash and a hand placed on a crotch; in other shots, a woman is shown bathing (nothing exposed) and there’s a shot of condom wrappers

Violence: The violence shocks because it surprises, and the violence is extreme and with blood; it’s true thriller violence

Adult situations: Characters drink, some are shown drunk, and drugs are mentioned

Takeaway: If you’re a fan of Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us, you’ll like this film from South Korea’s most successful director