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‘Parasite’: Funny, insightful social satire earns its twists and turns

One of the best movies of 2019, Bong Joon Ho’s latest is a film of dramatic power, innovative comedy, romantic poetry and melancholy beauty.

When Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-sik, right) is hired by a rich family, he manages to get sister Kim (Park So-dam) on the payroll as well in “Parasite.”
Neon

Didn’t see that coming.

Or that.

Or THAT.

Time and again, director and co-writer Bong Joon Ho’s masterful and darkly funny and frenetic social satire “Parasite” changes gears and pulls the rug out from under us — but even as we’re thrown off balance and we’re just beginning to process the newest (and often bat-bleep crazy) developments, we never feel conned or manipulated, because we’re also realizing these long-range plot seeds have been sewn all along, and certain clues have been dropped every step of the way.

There’s nothing arbitrary or cheap about this journey. Every big payoff has been earned.

This is a film of such dramatic power and innovative comedy and romantic poetry and melancholy beauty that upon exiting a screening, you might well feel the urge to tell everyone in the lobby of the multiplex to delay their plans to check out some mainstream offering because if they truly love cinema, they should see THIS movie, immediately.

Please don’t do that because it wouldn’t work and you might be detained. But you’d also be right.

“Parasite” has its moments as a slapstick comedy with some brutal and violent payoffs; a domestic drama about three very different long-term marriages, and a whimsical caper adventure.

Mostly, though, it’s one of the smartest and most insightful class-warfare films of the 21st century.

This is the story of two four-person families — wife, husband, daughter, son — living parallel and drastically different lives in South Korea.

The Kim clan is barely scraping by in a cramped, basement apartment. Dad (Song Kang-ho) hasn’t worked for years, and Mom (Jang Hye-jin) is temperamental and unreliable, but their son Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-sik) is an ambitious go-getter willing to cut corners, and their daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) has some seriously impressive con-game instincts, not to mention an ice-cold conscience.

They’re a clever bunch, not necessarily impeded by traditional definitions of wrong and right.

This all comes into play when Ki-Woo finds an entrée into the world of the privileged class. He’s hired as a tutor for Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), the teenage daughter of the career-driven, emotionally detached, tech exec Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), and his high-strung spouse, Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-jeong).

Once Ki-Woo has his foot in the door and is accepted by the wealthy Park family, he leverages that trust to bring in his crafty sister to masquerade as an art instructor/therapist, and he engineers scenarios that result in his father and mother replacing longtime Park family employees.

And that’s when things just begin to get interesting. And complicated.

Empathetic as some members of the Kim family might be in certain situations, they are indeed parasites — desperately clinging like barnacles to the Park family as a source of validation by association, even as they try to pull off one last con.

Some of the members of the Park family are just as bad — using their servants and employees to serve self-interests far beyond the stated job duty.

With universally excellent performances, a richly layered script and a beautiful visual style, “Parasite” is one of the best movies of 2019.