The best shot from Parasite, in my opinion, is one early on in the film, in which director Bong Joon-Ho cleverly recreates a scene from one of his earliest movies, Memories of a Murder. Using a mix of blocking, panning, and zooms, he slowly closes in on the family central to Parasite, showing how they convince a pizza store employee to fire one of their own because of a mistake the family made themselves. The son, daughter, and mother close in on the mom’s supervisor from the pizza place, who is picking up a bunch of terribly folded pizza boxes. The supervisor originally accuses the family of doing it, but they convince her that it was someone else. A coworker of the supervisor’s chimes in in the background, but soon the daughter moves in front of him, and then the son and daughter move closer, and the camera zooms in. They convince the supervisor that it wasn’t their fault, and their employment is secured for another day.
There aren’t many other amazingly composed shots like that in the film, but the character driven story more than makes up for it. Much like one of his previous films, Snowpiercer, this is a film concerned with those who have, and those who don’t, and how the latter try to achieve some material success. In this case, it involves the family of father Kim Ka-Taek (Song Kang-Ho), mother Kim Chung-Sook (Jang Hye-Jin), brother Kim Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-Shik) and sister Kim Ki-jeong (Park so-dam) infiltrating the lives of a wealthier family, the Parks, by lying their way into various positions needed filled by the family. Ka-Taek becomes the driver for father Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-Kyun), Chung-Sook becomes the housekeeper for Dong-ik’s wife Choi-Yeon gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), Ki-Woo tutors their daughter Park Da-hye (Jung Ji-so) in English, and Ki-jeong tutors their son Park Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon) in art.
At once tense and funny, the themes have much to do with Korean society as with the whole world. There’s the matter that the Parks live just up the street from central family, compounded by the looming threat of North Korea that occurs in one subplot. To boot, there’s also the matter that English plays an important role in someone advancing their career, and yet there are barriers in Korean society that prevent people like Ki-Woo from moving forward, even though he’s a better English tutor than his friend (who, in the film, is currently enrolled in college), who gave him the job in the first place.
I actually watched Snowpiercer last weekend to prepare myself for any characteristics to look out for. Whereas that film was an action sci-fi, Parasite is much more domestic. Following the characters’ plan step by step, and watching the reactions to the events created around them, the film seems almost plotless, but this aspect hurts it not at all. While the Parks are mostly oblivious to the family’s ambitions because of their own comfortable privilege, the Chong-sook, Ka-Taek and the rest have a collective goal of enhancing their family’s situation, and the audience is in for the ride. Although it starts off plain enough, with Ki-Woo introducing Ki-jeong, and then their parents, into the Park family so they can all secure better income, the tension heightens as characters make mistakes, and the goals of others come into conflict with their own.
If I have anything to complain about though, it’s that not everything is made clear to the audience at first. I’m glad we don’t get an ugly exposition dump in the beginning of the film, but while watching I was thinking that it would help if we just got a little inkling as the family’s plan. Bong Joon-ho chooses, instead, to layer that further on in the narrative, showing the audience very brief flashbacks, showing how the family scripts their backstories. He even goes a little meta when Ka-taek tells his son that the best laid plan is no plan at all.
This brings me to the film’s writing and acting. Frankly, it’s great. From little jokes about metaphors and North Korea to the little looks and acting the characters portray, there’s so much going on underneath the story that this is a film that befit multiple viewings. The quality is subtly revealing, and quite naturalistic. It works to show the inner workings of the characters. In a sense, it’s an almost perfect recreation of that story map that we’re all forced to learn in high school English. There’s the inciting incident of the pizza boxes, then the rising action of the family slowly infiltrating the Park household, and then the white-knuckle climax that audiences won’t see coming until the characters do, and the falling action that falls like a roller coaster on the final push through.
Parasite has the type of filmmaking and writing that audiences don’t get to see as much of anymore. Purely character-driven, and striking the balance between drama and genre, it’s a domestic thriller that audiences can get a kick out of, while also, hopefully, making them think.