Class Warfare

Ever since it was unveiled in Cannes last year, where it won the Palme d’Or, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has enjoyed a miraculous ride. Winning prizes wherever it plays, including a Golden Globe, two BAFTAs and the Best Ensemble at the SAG awards, this weekend will see it compete for six Oscars. With a $163 million gross across the globe, it’s a remarkable achievement for a Korean-language film.

Pleasingly, Parasite is also one of the best films of the past 12 months, a meticulously-orchestrated tale about the rich-poor divide that works as both a social satire and black comedy-thriller. Bong, who had already gathered a considerable following for films like The Host, Okja and Snowpiercer, is at the peak of his powers here for a surprise-laden story that always stays ahead of its audience.

The story centres on two families, the Kims and the Parks. The Kims, led by patriarch Ki-taek (Bong regular Song Kang-ho), are unemployed and confined to living in a grungy basement flat in a less than salubrious part of town. But there is hope when the Kims’ student son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) is offered the chance to tutor the daughter of a wealthy tech CEO Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) and his flashy wife Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), who live in a sleek modernist house.

Once Ki-woo is established there, the rest of the family decides to muscle in by ousting the existing staff – the chauffeur, the cook – with a series of nefarious schemes. But this is just the beginning of a story that simply keeps on throwing curve balls in the audience’s general direction. The title suggests something akin to a horror film, but Bong creates far more arresting situations out of the every day.

One particularly deft sequence sees the Kim family trapped in the living room while the Parks sleep close by; rarely has the architecture of a residence been so precisely used. Bong delights in farcial moments too, but the final act – while there is some bloodshed – also has a hauntingly sad quality about it. Exploring inequality through the prism of a genre movie (though quite what genre is hard to pin down), this is a flat-out masterpiece.

Parasite opens on 7 February. For more details, visit here.

James Mottram