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“She does have one flaw though,” the well-dressed, well-heeled man bemoans of his housekeeper from the backseat of his chauffeured Mercedes, “she eats too much – she eats enough for two people.” Enough for two people. The man is implying, of course, not that she actually eats for two separate people, but rather that she eats enough for one person, and then repeats herself – that her portions are doubled, twofold, repeated.

“Jessica, only child, from Illinois, Chicago, I’m a cousin of your classmate,” a young woman sings to herself outside the well-dressed, well-heeled man’s home, rehearsing in double time the lie she is about to perform to his family.

“She has TB,” the chauffeur says as he paces his basement apartment reading from a script. He tests a number of different intonations before settling on the right one. “She has TB,” he announces gravely to the wife of the well-dressed, well-heeled man in the backseat of his car. Practice makes perfect.

"We watch with guilty fascination as each family member crafts their own fake identity"twitter/parasite

When their uneducated son is miraculously hired as an English tutor to the wealthy Park family, the hard-up Kims set out to methodically replace the Parks’ entire staff with members of their own family. What ensues is a violent game of class-driven entanglement and disentanglement. We watch with guilty fascination as each family member crafts their own fake identity – the prestigious art-school graduate from Chicago, the veteran Mercedes Chauffeur. It is clearly not capability that the Kims lack, but rather the costume capability puts on to play prestige. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is crawling with doubles, with forgeries, with rehearsals.

"But Bong is keen to remind us that no matter how much they might rehearse, it’s only the poor that need fear for their jobs. The rich, like all celebrities, are protected by their own capital"

In the Park family spectacle, supporting players are easily replaced – understudies wait impatiently in the wings. But as in all spectacles, nothing is as meets the eye. What if their seemingly random employees just so happened to be one happy family? What if their hungry housekeeper just so happened to really be squirreling away food for someone other than herself? But Bong is keen to remind us that no matter how much they might rehearse, it’s only the poor that need fear for their jobs. The rich, like all celebrities, are protected by their own capital.

In late capitalism, many are forced to meticulously rehearse their lives if they ever hope to have a chance at really living them. To make such a suggestion, as Bong does, is hardly revolutionary. But what makes Parasite unusually astute, is its unnerving depiction of what happens when, in spite of all that rehearsal, you mess up your lines. While the margin of error for those on the margins grows thinner and thinner, people are so exhausted from preparing for life that they’re more likely than ever to make mistakes while they’re living it. It is this very precarity which Bong harnesses to such revelatory effect.

"Parasite is alive with a rare kind of controlled hysteria which brings to mind the great Alfred Hitchcock and Claude Chabrol"

Parasite, like the organism after which it is named, thrives off of body heat – off of the kind of nervousness that makes your palms sweat. There’s a squirminess to Parasite which stops it from settling easily into one, or even two specific genres. Nevertheless, it would be a crime not to call Parasite what it is – a thriller of the highest order. Parasite is alive with a rare kind of controlled hysteria which brings to mind the great Alfred Hitchcock and Claude Chabrol. Like Hitchcock and Chabrol, Bong manages to tread the fine line between minimalism and excess, aesthetically and narratively speaking, leaving us somehow both hungry for more, but afraid we might throw up. In fact, I can’t remember sitting in a cinema audience more physically afflicted – a man next to me at one point gasped and drew his hands to his face, in the row in front of me a girl curled up into a ball and began to rock back and forth. Despite being relatively restrained in terms of gore, Parasite is wholly and viscerally shocking.

"Parasite looks good but feels better"twitter/parasite

Parasite looks good but feels better. Its visual style, while incredibly stylish and accomplished, is far from the film’s crowning glory. Of course, that isn’t to say that image patterns don’t abound in Parasite, because they do – hot sauce poured over a used white tissue, all those peaches… The list goes on. But these flourishes are purely a reminder of directorial authority – something to put us at ease. Ultimately, it is a razor-sharp script (which won an Academy Award for co-writers Bong and Han Jin-wong), coupled with impeccable directorial pacing, which make for a film less driven by visual cues and motifs, than by sheer energy. Bong’s cast are more than up to his challenge, and deliver a set of inimitable performances. Cho Yeo-jeong is particularly memorable as the Park matriarch, her eyes forever wide open but her posture tightly poised – like a rabbit in the headlights who seems to believe he’s far too valuable to be mowed down.


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The highest grossing foreign-language film in the US last year, Parasite has become nothing short of a global sensation, the like of which is rare in our current cinematic climate. And why not? It’s brilliant. I haven’t even touched upon its Korean context, but perhaps what has made Parasite so successful, for better or worse, is a kind of perceived universality. Apparently when push comes to shove, one language we can all speak is the element of surprise.