Beyond Fest Review: ‘Parasite’ – Peachy Con

Parasite won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. By the time regular audiences get to see it, that might be more hype than it can bear. Add to that wins at the Sydney Film Festival and Fantastic Fest and Parasite is setting up a tough act to deliver. Fortunately, Parasite is up to the challenge. It’s a great movie worthy of those accolades. 

A family of parasites

The Kim family is eeking out a living any way they can. They steal wi-fi in the corners of their home and try to make money folding pizza boxes. This isn’t enough so they enact an elaborate plan to install each family member with the Park family.

L-R: Choi Woo-Shik, Song Kang-ho, Chang Hyae-jin and Park So-dam in Parasite | Neon CJ Entertainment

First, siblings Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) and Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam) sell the Parks on tutoring and art therapy for their kids, Da-song (Jung Hyun-jun) and Da-hye (Jung Ji-So). Then they sabotage the housekeeper (Lee Jeong-eun) to get their mother Kim Khung-sook (Hyae Jin Chang) installed as her replacement. She then sabotages the Park family chauffeur to get her husband Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) hired as his replacement.

So the whole Kim family is living it up in the Park house, until they discover a secret that threatens both their livelihood and the Park family. 

The con is on

The Kim family cons are very entertaining. You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end, and Mr. and Mrs. Park (Lee Sun-kyun and Yeo-jeong Jo) didn’t do anything to deserve it, except maybe being well off when others have nothing. The audience gets to watch the Kims script and rehearse their lines until they perfect the con.

Lee Sun-kyun and Jo Yeo-jeong in Parasite | Neon CJ Entertainment

The cons escalate. They’re a source of fun and humor, but also danger. Manipulating food allergies is elaborate, but seems little more than deadly than an inconvenience to the victim. Although it also costs her her livelihood, it’s not life-threatening. 

Director Bong Joon-ho ratchets up the tension while maintaining a playful sense of fun. Beyond a certain point in the con I won’t spoil where it goes, but everything Bong sets up early in the film pays off in surprising and satisfying ways. 

The cast sells ‘Parasite’

Bong and his co-writer Han Jin Won may be the masterminds but Parasite wouldn’t work without the charismatic leads enacting their plan. The Kim family actors have a delicate balance to strike. They are manipulators, schemers, thieves and we have to like them. 

Jo Yeo-jeong in Parasite
Jo Yeo-jeong in Parasite | Neon CJ Entertainment

A lot falls on the Park family actors too. Jo is the most reactive to all the cons. She’s a germophobe so suspecting the housekeeper is sick sends her into a tizzy. She’s also overly protective of her kids so her reactions to all their studies are fraught. She is delicious as we revel in her freaking out but sympathize that we know how badly the Kims are manipulating this poor woman. 

Who is the real ‘Parasite’?

So the title Parasite raises interesting connotations. It would be easy to say the Kims are parasites. They’re living off the resources of the wealthy. I don’t know what the financial climate of Korea is but if it’s anything like the U.S. it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Parks parasites. They don’t seem to be extremely wealthy but they may have accumulated their comfortable lifestyle by using up people beneath them. Or maybe the Kims are misguided in their targets.

Park So-dam and Choi Woo-sik in Parasite | Neon CJ Entertainment

There are more parasites coming between the Kims and the Parks but I won’t spoil it. What the ambiguous classification of parasites and the amount of potential parasites suggest is that everybody is using somebody to get ahead. Maybe that’s a societal problem that should be examined. There’s got to be a way for everybody to mutually benefit from working together. 

Knowing writer/director Bong Joon-ho’s work, it’s no spoiler to imply that Parasite turns violent. That’s inherent to the con artist genre too. Tricking people often has violent results. That’s also the nature of parasitic relationships. Eventually someone is used up. Either the host is bled dry, or the parasite gets removed. So don’t be a parasite, but they sure are fun to watch.