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Film Review: Parasite

4 February 20 words: Jamie Morris

It’s no secret that the twisted new comedy-thriller Parasite has captivated audiences around the world; but will it hit the mark with a UK audience now that it’s finally invaded our screens?

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik
Running Time: 132 minutes

Since 2003’s Memories of Murder, Bong Joon-ho has been a popular name within the South Korean film industry, and has gradually made his way on to the global stage thanks to a chain of acclaimed modern cult classics. However, with a running total of nearly 180 awards, it’s his new “clash of the classes” comedy-thriller Parasite that has really got the world talking.

Parasite is a story told in two halves, starting off as a socially-conscious caper in which the four members of the poor Kim family infiltrate the wealthy Park residence with a scheme hatched by their son. Yet, as is to be expected from the best laid plans of mice and men, their web of lies begins to untangle when the unexpected happens.

Bong Joon-ho’s razor-sharp screenplay stirs excitement by treating the tension like a tripwire, gradually plucking on it with increasing strength until it finally snaps in the final act and explodes into a dazzlingly brutal crescendo. There’s not one dull moment in this film as Korea’s finest director employs a “bomb under the table” approach that results in a thoroughly entertaining barrage of back-to-back laughs and thrills.

Over the course of the film, Bong manages to leave a big artistic fingerprint while simultaneously appealing to moviegoers unfamiliar with his works and other foreign movies. All of the hallmarks of his previous features, such as the frolicking between genres and his idiosyncratic characters, can be found here and are used astutely to drive forward the narrative.

As with the sprawling sewers in The Host, the titular train in Snowpiercer and Okja’s slaughterhouse scene, the settings in which Parasite takes place are crucial to how the drama unfolds. The first of these is the Kims' claustrophobic basement home, characterised by its street-level window that makes them vulnerable to fumes, flood water and occasionally a drunken passerby's urine. It’s a bottom-of-the-barrel nest that each member of the family is buzzing to leave behind them for good.

Each of its moving parts bounce off each other to create a truly spectacular experience

In contrast, the sleek Park abode, brought to life by production designer Lee Ha-jun and set decorator Cho Won-woo, is easily one of the most magnificent movie sets to ever be built. Not only does its layered form make for an arresting backdrop to Hong Kyung-po’s masterful cinematography, it also yields dark secrets that throw a spanner into the works of the Kim’s plans just when everything seems to be going peachy.

This house eventually serves as the battlefield for a war between rich and poor, but not necessarily how you might expect. Things become less black-and-white as the story progresses, and the film’s excellent cast carries this weight effortlessly. Song Kang-ho - a familiar face to anyone who has dabbled in much Korean cinema before - delivers his richest performance yet as Ki-taek, patriarch of the Kim family. Song immerses himself into this role to the core and every line echoes with authenticity and nuance.

Each of the supporting cast live up to the standard set by Song and offer different dynamics that keep each scene just as vibrant as the last. Some of the film’s best comedy is found when the unassuming Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) meets each member of the scheming Kim family, offering hilarious reactions to them based on their distinct personalities. Lee Sun-kyun also holds his own as Mr. Park, who appears less often than his wife yet always leaves a big impression thanks to his sinister demeanour and not-so-subtle disdain for the poor.

Emotional scenes between characters are displaced towards the very end of the film in favour of ruthless social commentary, and even though the conclusion of the story is almost perfect, it still isn't quite as poignant as the endings to some of Bong’s previous films. It takes a while after leaving the theatre to process the magnitude of what Parasite achieves, and it seems likely that fully unpacking this box of tricks will take numerous viewings.

This is a boundary-breaking masterwork that not only shines in all areas, but also succeeds in having each of its moving parts bounce off each other to create a truly spectacular and unmissable cinema experience. Whether you’re a die-hard Bong Joon-ho fan ahead of the curve or just thinking of trying something completely new, Parasite is guaranteed to surprise and impress.

Did you know? The film was the first to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes with a unanimous vote since 2013.

Parasite is in cinemas from Friday 7 February

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