Parasite is South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho’s seventh feature and it unfurls with the smoothness of a master at the top of his game, beginning as a working-class comedy, morphing into a noir thriller, and concluding as a blood-drenched tragedy. It won the Palm d’Or at Cannes in May, and at the time of this writing, it occupies the #75 spot on IMDb’s populist list of the greatest films ever made. Not an inauspicious start for a film just opening in North America on Friday.
Meet the Kim family. The patriarch, Ki-taek (Bong regular Song Kang-ho), is an unemployed driver living with his wife Choong-sook (Jang Hye-jin) and their two college-age children: son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam). Their cramped apartment lies partially below street level, providing an excellent view of the alley, a favorite spot for drunks to stop and pee. The struggling family subsists on temp jobs like folding pizza boxes for a local business owner, who fires them for making too many mistakes.
One day Ki-woo’s friend tips him off to a sweet gig tutoring the teenage daughter (Jung Ji-so) of a wealthy family, the Parks, who live in an ultra-modern mansion in a fashionable district. Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) is a successful businessman and Mrs. Park (Jo Yeo-jeong) a beautiful but naïve trophy wife. Ki-woo succeeds in impressing them and quickly recommends his sister for the job of art tutor without telling the Parks of their relationship. The plan works, and soon they are conspiring to get both the driver and the longtime maid (Lee Jeong-eun) fired so that they can bring parents Ki-taek and Choong-sook in as well. Before long, all four—mother, father, son, and daughter—are working for the Parks, who remain oblivious to their connection.
All of this takes about hour or so, but it’s only the setup to this characteristically suspenseful satire with teeth. Without revealing too much, suffice it to say that the house harbors a secret, introducing a moral dilemma that upends the comfortable co-existence between these “parasites” and their trusting hosts.
Bong’s great strength as a director, besides his supreme assurance with a camera, is his ability to slalom between broad comedy, slam-bang action, and savage social critique without breaking a sweat. Despite its length — two-and-a-quarter hours — the film is deeply entertaining and involving. Even if its social message about culture and class (Alfred-Hitchcock-by-way-of-Karl-Marx) is laid on too thick in the end, this Parasite slithers most agreeably.
ArcLight (also playing at the Landmark), 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; Fri. Oct. 11, various showtimes; $16-$18; (323) 615-2550, arclightcinemas.com.