For fans and followers of director Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Mother,” “Snowpiercer”), you are truly in for a treat with his latest feature, and for those new to this creative genius, welcome to the wonderful creative world of this critically acclaimed filmmaker. “Parasite,” which just completed its festival run at the Mill Valley Film Festival 42 and won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a dark comedy thriller that is as peculiar and startling, as it is well-crafted and intriguing. The story revolves around an impoverished family of four, living in small, dirty and cluttered basement apartment in a South Korean neighborhood. The parents are unemployed and their twenty something children, a younger smart son, and crafty and cynical daughter, drift from school and piecing together odd jobs to keep the family afloat. Despite their circumstances, they have easy-going dispositions and a strong sense of camaraderie. But they are broke and desperate. As such, when the son, Kim Ki-woo (Woo- sis Choi) is given the opportunity to be an English tutor to the high school daughter of an affluent family, he reinvents himself, doctors his resume, and lands the job.
Early on in his tenure, he endears himself to the well-meaning, slightly neurotic stay-at-home mom, Park Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo), convincing her that her young son needs an art therapist to develop his talent and calm him down. He recommends his sister, Ki-jung (So-dam Park) without identifying her as such. Ki-jung has zero qualifications as a therapist, but like her brother, she cons her way into the Park family employment. Through series of situations, mostly created by the siblings, the entire Kim family is soon integrated into the unsuspecting rich family’s life. The father chauffeuring the husband who is a successful and insensitive businessman, and Mrs. Kim is cunningly put in place as the new maid. None though are known as family to their employers. As far as the rich family is concerned, the new employees are relatively strangers to one another. The Park family is, for the most part, grateful for each new hire, and the Kims can hardly believe their sudden windfall. Although they are convinced, the best is yet to come, their ill-gotten gains may turn on them.
How the stealthy Kim clan scheme their way into the Park household and secure new-found finances is only a portion of what makes up this one-of-a-kind drama. The second half of the film takes a decidedly dark turn, stirring up social issues along the way. Between the haves and have nots, almost no character is endearing or redeeming. In fact, most are despicable. While this would normally make it hard for audiences to connect within any other film, it works for “Parasite.” You may not sympathize with anyone, but you are invested in all characters and each plot point. Between the Kims and the Parks, the performances from every actor is precise, believable and absorbing. As to the script, at every turn there is a revelation. How Bong subtly explores cultural dynamics and weaves social issues along the way defies explanation. This is yet another example of him deftly mixing genres, while also developing fully realized characters to tell complex and rich stories. While “Parasite” makes perfect sense as part of his repertoire of the absurd- the look, the feel, the characters- it somehow manages to stand out. Just when you thought a Bong Joon- ho movie couldn’t get more weird or wonderful, he delivers a masterpiece.