The Hustle, Though

Parasite is the most critically acclaimed film of the year. It won Oscars for Best Picture (the first foreign language film ever to do so), Best International Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director.  Rotten Tomatoes has it at 99% fresh with a 90% audience score.  It has grossed $246M worldwide (and is still in release in some places).  In short: Parasite is a massive success and no one is likely looking for another article about it.

Yet here we are.

Parasite plays like dystopian futurism, and yet it is fully now. It is a film about the realities of poverty in a world where a small group of people control all the wealth and the masses struggle to merely exist. The world that it is describing is our world in this very moment.

This isn’t exactly new ground for writer/director Bong Joon Ho. In Snowpiercer he played these same themes as action filled science fiction. In that film the survivors of an apocalypse created by climate change live in an ever moving train assigned to cars according to their station and wealth. The poor people in the back have to struggle for scraps and fight to survive.  Parasite is the same story, just without the SF trappings and hyperbole. The train is Seoul. It may as well be Chicago, or Flint.  The rich control everything. They live gilded lives in gaudy homes funded by the labor of others.

Parasite is about the Kim family. They are a group of smart, strong, industrious people willing to work very hard, to hustle all day every day.  None of those qualities will (or even can) lift them from poverty. No one gets rich through hard work.  In Korea (like in the United States) the only sure path to wealth is to be born rich. The other possible paths all involve incredible luck. No amount of labor will ever earn you a billion dollars.

The Kims live in a terrible basement apartment where the have a view of an alley where drunks urinate on the street. They stand on counters in search of usable wi-fi so that they can look for jobs. They fold pizza boxes for a second rate pizza joint, and hustle daily.  The father, Ki-taek (Song Kang Ho) speaks often of the various jobs he has had. Each time, the place he works goes under he is back on the street looking for the next position. 

The story takes off when Ki-woo, the son, learns of an opportunity. He fakes a college degree in order to get a job tutoring a rich teenage girl.  This is how he meets the Park family.  Ki-Woo immediately sees more opportunity. The Parks have a lot of money, and they can employ several people.  He convinces his siter Ki-Jung (Park So Dam) to pose as an art tutor slash art therapist for the Park’s young son.  He then helps introduce his father as a talented chauffeur. Doing this involves getting the previous chauffeur fired. Ki-jung does this by simply a pair of her underpants in the family car.  Then they need to make a place for their mother.  This requires a bit od spying to learn the weakness of the current housekeeper. Soon they discover that she has a terrible allergy to peaches. They exploit this to make way for Mrs Kim to become the new housekeeper. The family uses assumed names and play the part of strangers as long as the Parks are around. 

Soon it seems like the Kim family has made it. They all have good jobs that bring in enough money to live.  They each do the job they were hired to do and seem to do them very well.  Everything has gone according to plan. Then the Park family leaves for a camping trip.

During a terrible thunderstorm the old housekeeper shows up and reveals an awful secret.  She threatens to expose the Kims and bring down everything that they have worked for.  The tension that Bong Joon Ho builds in the last third of the film is amazing. It’s honestly Hitchcockian.

Earlier the film plays like a slightly sad but also very funny farce of sorts.  You expect the Kim family to do well, then some ridiculous thing will interrupt their plans and comedy will ensue. Parasite takes that expectation and smashes it right in your fucking face.  This movie isn’t concerned with cleverly cute upstairs-downstairs comedy. This movie has a point and it’s going to tie you to your chair and explain it.

I was not prepared for the level of violence Parasite inflicts upon the viewer. It heaps violence that is both emotional and physical. But, and this is key, the movie is never didactic and boring. It never becomes a slog or a an economic treatise. Parasite is wonderfully entertaining for ever minute of its runtime.  It’s funnier than a movie this depressing should be and it’s sadder than a movie this funny should be. It’s bloodier and more exciting that a message film has any right being and it’s smarter than anyone ever expects a thriller to be.

Parasite is just an amazing film that deserves every accolade that it has won.

Note: The Park family are the parasites, friend. Read more about it.


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