New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: MOVIE REVIEW: Parasite

(Image courtesy of NEON CJ Entertainment via

(Image courtesy of NEON CJ Entertainment via


This may seem a touch slight for what is easily the most cunning film of 2019, but the title says it all when it comes to Parasite. In that one word, a premise is generated that blindly and automatically intrigues. Your instincts say “eww” and your sensory responses to the word trigger certain and escalating discomfort. You tell yourself what you are going to watch isn’t going to be entirely pleasant. Oh, but dive deeper in a discerning way to prepare yourself further.  As this website so often does, grab a dictionary.

LESSON #1: THE DEFINITION OF “PARASITE”— When you dig into this title (as it digs into you), three variations of meaning present themselves: 

  1. an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.

  2. a person who receives support, advantage, or the like, from another or others without giving any useful or proper return, as one who lives on the hospitality of others.

  3. (in ancient Greece) a person who received free meals in return for amusing or impudent conversation, flattering remarks, etc.

You read those definitions and wonder, gosh, which one of the three will this buzzed-about Korean film seize or probe. Big or small, any one of them could take a toll.  The staggering thing is, with many flourishes, Parasite, is all damn three of them, in twisted and overwhelming fashion. Somewhere, the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock is smiling with glee.

Opening on a makeshift clothesline drying a collection of dingy socks, such is the chandelier crowning the Kim household.  This place of squalor is a semi-sunken garden unit equivalent to dirty gum stuck under a crowded metropolis’s shoe. Beset by possible sewage flooding, sputtering wifi, deactivated phones, urban fumigation, and downright trickling piss, the armpit apartment is occupied by Ki-taek (Snowpiercer’s Song Kang-ho), his wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), and two teenage children, son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik of Train to Busan) and daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam of The Priests).  They collectively take every odd job they can find to rub two coins together.

LESSON #2: THE POWER OF PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS— People on the inside say it all the time.  You have to know somebody to get in. When one of Ki-woo’s college student friends passes him a valuable vouch on a job tutoring English for a wealthy teen (Jeong Ji-so), the family sees dollar signs, fulfilling the opportune superstition of a newly acquired “scholar’s rock.” Scouting his way into the opulent Park household of an IT CEO (Lee Sun-kyun of A Hard Day), Ki-woo impresses the matriarch Yeon-gyo (Obsessed star Cho Yeo-jeong) and creates recommendation scenarios where his family members soon get hired for other service jobs for the Parks.  

LESSON #3: ALWAYS CHECK A POTENTIAL EMPLOYEE’S REFERENCES— The Kims are pretenders playing pretenders who cannot wash off the stink of the poor, and Mrs. Park is one frazzled, lonely, and gullible wife. Don’t just trust a sympathetic face or lark of a story. Catch the hustle of even the best hustler and go through the proper channels on someone and their paperwork. If that means a polygraph to check how “the heart doesn’t lie,” so be it.

Let not just the street-smart con begin, but the second and third definitions of “parasite” as well.  As the Kims roll in the fattening and intoxicating riches of their ruse, unforeseen circumstances (to intentionally say the least) threaten their exposure.  What was light gleaning before festers and burrows towards that symbiotic first definition and turns into something more feral for survival.

LESSON #4: AMENDING PLANS— Plotting and rehearsing an ironclad plan take meticulousness for success.  Reacting to a swerve and changing a great plan takes equal meticulousness. That’s all well and good until something causes excrement to strike cooling devices.  The wily father Ki-taek may just have the only solution: Have no plan at all. That way nothing goes wrong because nothing was set to be ruined.

The unanimous winner of the 2019 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival earns and deserves every laurel and prize coming its way.  Brilliance is only the beginning at how this film whispers and shouts both razor sharp filmmaking and brazen social commentary. The production design constructions of Ha-jun Lee, from the pristine and polished locations to the claustrophobic dinge on the surfaces underneath, show purpose in both functionality and symbolism.  Kyung-pyo Hong’s voyeuristic cinematography bends our wide-eyed gaze around those surroundings like a contortionist of pent-up apprehension.  

Where Parasite lives up to its hype and its multiple meanings is in its originality and tone.  In most overindulgent Hollywood hands, this would devolve into home invasion horror and overplay its intended messages.  Not here with Bong Joon-ho. Even when Parasite means to jar and rattle, it’s exceptionally smooth in doing so.  Each performance, from the dastardly to the demure, sells this suspense.  Joon-ho good luck charm Song Kang-ho and Cho Yeo-jeong have the showiest performances, but Choi Woo-shik is the redeeming soul of the movie that turns it villainous to virtuous.

There is a swindling calculation to anything and everything fiendish or rancorous.  In channeling this hostile struggle through biting satire on social class and warped familial devotions, what normally might repulse zings instead.  There are infinite layers to this onion its cinematic scent is masked so incredibly well. Like parasites themselves, the imprint of this movie irks first and then smolders with a blistering patience that absorbs us to no end when its flames peak. 

Zoinks, does this movie have vigor!  For those folks who constantly lament that there is nothing original and interesting to watch anymore in this multiplex marketplace of creative bankruptcy, look no further than the minor challenge of following Korean subtitles.  The sly guile simmering behind the decadence of Parasite exceeds any trope one thinks that possible assign to this film.  This is your jaw-dropper. This is your water-cooler winner. This is the one that will keep people talking for a long time.




from REVIEW BLOG – Every Movie Has a Lesson

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