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Why Parasite will burrow under your skin

directed by Bong Joon-ho

The South Korean director's tragicomedy sees a grifter family’s mad get-rich-quick plan come unstuck.

As with the creature of its title, Parasite is a film that burrows and worms its way into your nervous system, latches on tightly, then proceeds to leech on your hopes and sympathies. Think you can guess which way the plot is going? A sharp stab will take you in a demented new direction. Feeling close to a character? With punitive skill, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho will invert that compassion.

At the heart of this pitch-black baroque comedy is a family of grifters impossible not to like. From their sub-basement flat, they plan an audacious and elaborate con. Their target is a wealthy clan that in many ways is their mirror: husband, wife, son, daughter. But what they fail to realise is that no matter how low your position, there will always be someone worse off than you.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

George Orwell once pointed out that the impassable barrier between classes wasn’t just economic or cultural, but something far more visceral: “The lower classes smell,” he wrote. “That was what we were taught.” Whether deliberate or not, Bong deploys this observation many times over to withering ends – a clue that will give away the family’s secrets and provoke violent moments.

The story mutates constantly, growing ever more horrifying (and ever more tragic) with each iteration, subverting expectations all the way. Unlike Bong’s previous class-warfare allegory Snowpiercer, Parasite’s central criticism is shrouded in doubt, likely to inspire anguished debate about its meaning. But still, it is a film as thrilling as it is hilarious, and as insane as it is real.



Video: Madman Films

This article was first published in the July 6, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.