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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
From the start of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, we know who the parasites are – or at least we think we do. The opening scene introduces us to a family of ne’er-do-wells, the Kim’s, scuttling like cockroaches around their cluttered basement apartment: they hold their mobile phones aloft, hoping to find the spot where they can steal the Wi-Fi from a nearby cafe.
A worthy winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes film festival, the inspired Parasite can’t precisely be labelled a comedy, a thriller, nor a socially conscious drama about the class divide in South Korea, although it contains elements of all three. At a pinch, you might call it a satiric fable, or a tall tale. This time, however, the family is the monster – a four-headed beast that operates as a single entity and shows little mercy to outsiders.
The plan that turns the family’s fortunes around is hatched by Ki-woo at the expense of a much wealthier family, the Parks. Starting out as tutor to their teenage daughter, Ki-woo soon finds pretexts to move his father, mother and sister into the Park household, without letting on that the four of them are related. Ki-woo resembles a director, getting his co-conspirators to rehearse their parts. His sister’s more visual talents come in handy for forging documents, as well as letting her pose as an imperious “art therapist” to the Parks’ precocious young son.
Bong treats the idea of upper and lower classes as literally as possible – the Parks live at the top of a hill, the Kim’s at the bottom of one. The two families are opposites and mirrors of each other. Just as typical of Bong is a surrealistic sense that the plot has been patched together from an unlikely collection of bits and pieces. A large rock introduced at the outset plays a significant role, though not in the way we necessarily expect; so too do peach fuzz, the Boy Scouts, and the smell of wet fabric.