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(2019) *** 1/2 R
132 min. NEON. Director: Joon-ho Bong. Cast: Song Kang-ho.

/content/films/5185/1.jpgFew filmmakers working today evince the combination of storytelling command, visual and editorial craft and perverse, even shocking, edge that distinguishes Bong Joon-ho. The writer-director of The Host, Snowpiercer, and Okja returns with Parasite, an income-inequality comedy that’s also a tinder box ever threatening to ignite.

The screenplay by Bong and co-writer Han Jin-won begins by introducing the Kims, a family living hand to mouth in a South Korean slum. From their sunken apartment, the Kims—father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho of Bong’s Snowpiercer and The Host), mother Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam)—conspire to steal local wi-fi, endure the indignity of drunks habitually pissing right before their eyes, leave their windows open to accept a cloud of free fumigation, and work together at odd jobs, like folding pizza boxes for a pittance.

Although theirs is a constantly trying existence, the Kims have each other. This casually loving, tight-knit bunch of merry pranksters spends each day tricking poverty into allowing them to survive on the bottom rung of society. The family catches a break when a friend of Ki-woo, a university student about to study abroad, more or less hands off his job of tutoring rich girl Park Da-hye (Jung Ji-so). Smoothly insinuating himself with Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong), Ki-woo lands the job and, with it, entry into the Parks’ lavish, literally above-it-all modern manse (also occupied by Lee Sun-kyun’s Mr. Park and Jung Hyun-joon’s spoiled brat Da-song). The ostensible Parasite of the title, the Kim family begins pondering how to make the most of their new access to the good life.

That’s as much as you should know going into Parasite, which revels in its narrative hairpin turns. Bong masterfully constructs a comic first-act destined to implode in a suspenseful second-act. With a skilled cast, dazzling confidence and Fincher-esque control of design, photography, and pacing, Bong delivers wild-ride entertainment that’s by turns funny, squirmy, horrifying, and poignant, all in service of a zeitgeist-y story of working-class frustration—or, worse, the madness of true rock-bottom desperation—boiling over in ways the blithely wealthy can no longer ignore. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, where plans will always be disrupted by the chaos of nature and the predictability of human nature.

Parasite implicitly poses the question of who is truly living off of whom in a 99%/1% economy that, if it continues on its current course, seems destined for class warfare. When populism fails at the ballot box, can violence be far behind? The stakes established, Bong hurtles into his unapologetic comic thriller with reckless abandon, following the allegorical fantasy where it wants to go. Like Hirokazu Kore-eda’s deeply humane, social-realist Shoplifters from last year, Parasite suggests that struggle tightens the bonds of family. Should that tight bond snap, the bond can still endure, past separation, past even death. But an untested family, warm in the lap of luxury, lives in an illusion of security and a cloud of ignorance. Deliver a shock to that system, and the pain and bewilderment may be unendurable, irreparable.

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