By Olivia Popp
You need to see “Parasite” in theaters. Flinch as much as you’d like, but do not look away.
Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” picked up the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes and recently opened in one theater in New York — and every single showing was quickly sold out. I was lucky enough to see Bong Joon-ho’s tour de force with English subtitles while in Taiwan over the summer, and I’m still thinking about it. (And for my friends out there who are also hesitant about films labeled horror or dark thriller, let it be known that “Parasite” has horror elements, but its characteristics remain in the realm of thriller, splashed with non-gratuitous violence. It’s heart-pounding in the best way and won’t give you nightmares.)
Bong doles out twist after twist in a way that you’ll never want to see a film with a traditional three-act structure ever again. But beyond riveting thrills, “Parasite” pulls out all the stops and will take you through the broadest range of emotions of 2019. Bong packs in quick-witted humor shoved amidst pure terror so that by the end, you won’t know what hit you — nay, slapped you — multiple times. It’s easy to deduce the film’s core (and possibly superficial) ethical question merely from a one-sentence logline of the film you can find on Google: is the rich or the poor family the parasite?
Yet it’s so much more than that, and the struggle is not so clear-cut. Class conflict is more than whispers behind closed doors and passive-aggressive smiles in a beautifully-windowed mansion — it turns into a literal all-out war. “Parasite” is plenty more than just a black and white depiction of class with money at the forefront. Without spoiling the film, let’s just say no side is better off when it’s all over.
“Parasite” is outrageous and ridiculously extreme — even the colors are unreal. The grass is too green, the walls are too gray and the sky is too blue. But that’s what makes “Parasite” the best roller coaster ride you’ll be on in a theater.
In single-camera comedy form, the first half of “Parasite” serves up infinite deadpan jokes (watch for the daughter’s half-sung “jingle” that she recites before she rings the doorbell — I’m still laughing) and crisply cut humor that could have easily taken a turn into traditional dark comedy territory.
If the film ended there, I would’ve thought it was simply a comedy — the film cleans up its tracks so well that you won’t know where it’s headed until it’s too late. Then suddenly, the second half of the film swiftly diverges into a swirling pot of visuallydriven horror, ironic revelations and emotionally-driven brutal violence.
The brilliant cast brings a set of half wealthy and pristine, half scrappy and clever characters to life while also still looking amazing — seriously, everyone in this film looks fantastic — thanks to a combination of clean lighting, sharp costume design and actors whose faces perfectly fit their characters. Even when toilet water spews over half the people in the film, you just can’t take your eyes off of them. Each character also has unique quirks that reappear at the most crucial of moments, both for humor and for narrative purposes. Bong precariously balances props as both plot devices and character motifs, messing with your head so that whatever move is made, it always works.
So when “Parasite” comes to a theater near you (or, say, within a two to three hour driving distance), pick up your stuff and go. This film will shake you in the best of ways. Jump on Twitter and join the #Bonghive. Root for it at the Oscars when it goes up for the International Feature Film Award (formerly Best Foreign Language Film).
Run, don’t walk, to see “Parasite.” It’s the start of the anti three-act structure revolution we need in cinema.
Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.