Parasite (Gisaengchung) (2019)

Boon Joon-Ho‘s Palme d’Or-winning masterpiece Parasite is an unforgettable, genre-bending black comedy about social status, class and inequality, aspiration and materialism.

Host or Hostage

by Alexa Dalby

Parasite

Parasite is an ironic title, setting the tone for the tragicomedy that ensues. For acclaimed director Bong Joon-Ho, this ‘comedy without clowns’ or ‘tragedy without baddies’ is a blend of suspense, black humour and social satire – his signature traits. It’s about two, or maybe three, families, and it questions whether society causes their relationship to be parasitic or symbiotic.

A cellar-dwelling, dirt-poor Korean family, hardly scraping a living, infiltrate an ultra-rich family headed by a successful executive, who live in unimaginable luxury in an architect-designed mansion in beautiful grounds. The son first creates the beachhead, using a bogus diploma that sets him up as a tutor to the young daughter. Soon he’s followed by the rest of his family who cunningly pose as reliable employees – members of a servant class – to fill the various menial jobs that cater to the self-indulgent needs of the gullible rich.

In observing the huge discrepancies between the two social classes, Parasite reinforces the divide of last year’s Cannes winner, Shoplifters. Every frame of Parasites is both a scene-setter and a metaphor that contributes to telling the story: there are people who live in cellars – some by choice, some not – and people who live in glass boxes, however award-winningly they are designed. As in HG Wells’ The Time Machine, there are eloi and morlocks and when the two tribes meet and their two worlds collide, the result may be beyond all expectations…

Parasite is probably 2019’s best film and justly deserves its Palme d’Or. It really is a must-see.

Parasite premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or, screened at the BFI London Film Festival, and is released on 31 January 2020. It has been nominated for multiple awards.

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