I have been thinking about Parasite (2019) for some time. I began hearing about this Korean film that had been gaining attention from various quarters. Curiosity piqued, I managed to catch a showing at the legendary Tampa theater. What a waste of a trip to this palace of the performing arts. To say the least, I did not enjoy it. And then I had to watch on in horror as this bit of filth began winning Academy Awards, including for Best Motion Picture of the Year. Seriously. Everyone (except for me) seemed to like Little Women (2019), so why not that one? Or Harriet (2019)? Heck, I would have taken Crawl (2019) over Parasite. While I found Crawl silly, to put it mildly, at least it did not make me want to shower afterwards.
Parasite had me fooled for the first half into thinking it was a straight comedy. Set in an unnamed city in South Korea, we meet Ki Woo Kim (Woo-Sik Choi) and his family in their run down apartment in the slums. They make their living by doing various menial jobs, like folding pizza boxes. Ki Woo is not satisfied with his family’s shabby lifestyle. Thus when a friend tells him about a wealthy family that is in need of a tutor for their daughter Da Hye Park (Ji-So Jung), he sees it as an opportunity to move up in the world. The problem is that he does not have the credentials needed for the position. No problem. His family simply invents them. The Parks are not the brightest group of individuals, and with a little extra schmoozing Ki Woo is able to talk himself into the job. This is where the problems begin as Ki Woo finds the Park home and the trappings of their riches irresistible. Making matters worse is the affair he is carrying on with Da Hye, who seems to be a bit insatiable. That should have been the first clue as to how depraved were the Parks. But before long, the Kims had managed to scam their way into being servants for every aspect of life for the Parks. So deep into the Parks do the Kims get that when the owners go away for a vacation, the Kims acts as if they own the house. While the Parks are away, the Kims get drunk together and make a mess of the house. And then, of course, the Parks return early. Though the Kims manage to clean everything up before their employers return, there is a lingering tension. Soon we see that the Parks are more than just dimwitted people who have enjoyed the trappings of affluence. Shortly after they arrive home, Mr. (Sun-Kyun-Lee) and Mrs. Park (Yeo-jeong Jo) do drugs and have sex on their living room, oblivious to the fact that one of the Kim family members is hiding under their couch and that their son Da Song (Hyun-jun Jung) is camping out in their back yard. One of the other things the Kim family discovers in the mansion is that the former driver, husband to the former housekeeper (all of whom had been duped out of their jobs), is living in a secret chamber under the house. This becomes important when, during a birthday party for Da Song, Mr. Kim (Kang-ho Song) decides that the Parks are not worthy of their prosperity and murders Mr. Park in front of all the family and guests. He escapes by also killing the current occupant of the underground lair and takes up residence. Everything falls apart from there, but Ki Woo vows to make something of himself (legitimately this time), eventually buying the Park house and freeing his father.
For half of Parasite‘s run time, you are chuckling along with it with the ease with which the Parks are taken advantage. But then it takes that horrendously dark turn that completely ruins it to this reviewer. Does the awful behavior of the Parks justify the con job the Kims pull on them? Or the violence? No. When the Kims decide to have their little drinking party, I cannot help but think of the good and faithful servants who the master finds vigilant on his return. They are rewarded. At any rate, murder is never justified, and this is driven home when you consider that the Kims (using underhanded means) had obtained everything for which they dreamed.
Had Parasite maintained its lighthearted approach to presenting its story without swerving into depravity, it would have been much more enjoyable. I do not care how well acted and shot a film is if we are forced to root for people who feel, basically, like they need to cheat in order to get ahead. And when the film takes the turn from being funny to being just sad, it makes for a disjointed cinematic experience. Perhaps there is something I am missing? Is it funny when Mr. Park is gunned down? No. Hence there is really nothing to latch onto in this film.