“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” ~ Bong Joon-ho, director of Parasite.

Film, much like music, is a universal language with the exceptional ability to be understood and appreciated by anyone, regardless of the language one speaks. As the above quote stipulates, the language obstruction that is so often a hindrance to the viewership of many foreign language films is very easily shattered, and Parasite is arguably one of the most prime examples of the cross-cultural impact a film can have once this “one-inch tall barrier” is overcome.

Bong Joon-ho’s social satire, also a genre-bending, Palme d’Or-winning thriller of class struggle, is set to the backdrop of a contemporary South Korea and follows two families of four: the Kim family and the Park family. After Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik), the son of the poor, working-class Kim family, is offered the opportunity to tutor a member of the wealthy Park family, a scheme soon formulates which sees the other members of the Kim family steadily infiltrate this upper-class home.

Parasite, in short, is a marvellously luxurious work of cinema; its sly, raw power slithers its way under your skin slowly, much like the organism referenced in its title. But of course, the metaphoric title is specifically alluding to the more derogatory use of the word, that being a person or people who habitually rely on or exploits others, giving nothing in return. Joon-ho designs the film in such a way that this definition can apply to both families; each set employs some deeply morally questionable attitudes, but with the Kim family as the protagonists, Joon-ho manages to arouse a distinguishable empathy towards their desperate situation in spite of their actions, laying the groundwork for what proves to be a thematically provocative feature.

It is blissfully simple to lose oneself in these characters, particularly Cho Yeo Jeong’s Park Yeon-kyo, the mother of the Park family, whose gentle, wide-eyed anxiety is captivating from the start. Likewise, Song Kang Ho (Kim Ki-taek, the Kim family father) is the driving force of the film. His cheerful disposition even in the face of adversity helps retain a distinctly light-hearted feel even with Parasite’s elicit motifs. It’s downright hilarious in places. A special mention to Jeong-eun Lee is also essential, who perfectly tackles the transformation of her character, Moon-gwang, the original Park family housekeeper, over the course of the film.

Yet what really separates Parasite from the rest is its visual wit. Each shot speaks for the film’s main themes of class conflict, social inequality and capitalistic greed, juxtaposing the families through the use of colour and their other surroundings. Joon-ho uses staircases predominantly to display the positions of the families across the film, and the mirroring structures between the Kim house and the Park house – especially the square windows and basement settings – plays a subtle if hugely significant role in presenting these ideas.

There’s so much to uncover in this film. Parasite is pure, explosive filmmaking, a visual spectacle and a thrill from start to finish. The sooner western cinemagoers overcome that god-darned one-inch tall barrier that “foreign films” exhibit, the better, as Joon-ho’s stingingly topical film is a first-rate paradigm of the kind of universal filmmaking that transcends the confines of language, and appeals in some way to everyone who watches it.

5 stars

Image: Movie DB

Josh Teggert is a Screen Editor at Forge Press.

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