Just when you think the western cinema is starting to swallow the global film market, Asian creators’ craftsmanship waltzes in from around the corner and gracefully swoops you off your feet into the world where the genre is a fluid concept of an old practice. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is no exception, and if you find yourself in a seat for one of its theatrical screenings, well, my friends, you’re in for a ride.
Opening on a basement flat window somewhere in South Korea, Parasite looks at its young protagonist Ki-woo and his family strapping for every penny they can. So when his close friend offers him to take over tutoring English to a daughter of a rich businessman Mr Park and his “simple” wife, although not without hesitation, our hero grabs the chance. Ki-woo’s family are excited to make a good living and are quick to make hustle while the sun shines. They quadruple their profits by gradually hosting Ki-woo’s sister, father and mother, on service positions at the Parks’ home. It seems almost too easy, but Ki-woo couldn’t be prouder. Life seems to go according to plan until it starts to go according to someone else’s. With the greed devouring the souls of the four, eventually, all is set off to hell.
What happens next isn’t just a big moral wonder to the audience, but also to the characters themselves. I will leave aside the details to spare the spoilers for the less you know about the film, the better your experience promises to be. I will, however, leave below a short monologue from Ki-woo’s father that, to me, sums it all up.
Ki-taek: [to his son] You know what kind of plan that never fails? No plan. No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned. Look around you. Did you think these people made a plan to sleep in the sports hall with you? But here we are now, sleeping together on the floor. So, there's no need for a plan. You can't go wrong with no plans. We don't need to make a plan for anything. It doesn't matter what will happen next. Even if the country gets destroyed or sold out, nobody cares. Got it?
As to the structure of the film - it is anything but short of symbolisms. The dynamics between two families are visual in everything. The rich Parks live high in the hills behind an iron wall of security cameras and gates, while our poor four live underground behind the metal bars of the window, which doesn’t even close to giving privacy from drunk heads pissing into it from the street at night. The geography is hyperbolised at the midpoint of the film when the rainfall comes pouring down from above, while the circumstances force Ki-woo’s family to flea the Parks’ house, and their vile behaviour being almost literary washed out by the flooding waters rushing down the streets to the bowels of the city. I can’t be certain at what stage of development the allegory got externalised into the physical world of the characters but judging from Joon-ho’s previous work the approach was there from the beginning.
To sum up, the plot of Parasite flows from one scene to another without clear dramatic plot twists just as does life itself. The audience is kept at the edge of their seats at the expense of continuously growing tension and presented with all the answers to arising questions though the visual metaphors and all dots above the I’s in a timely manner. And when the closing titles come up on the screen you are brought back to the same place you were in life a fleeting two hours ago. The only thing changed is your realisation of the uncertainty of the world you have just experienced and your own, a world without genre - the real world.