The Parasite: Brilliant and engaging

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Chang Hyae-jin, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Lee Jung-eun

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Rating * * * *

Christ's first beatitude "Blessed are the poor in spirit" assumes an entirely different tone in South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho's brilliant character-driven satire on the class divide. Titled "The Parasite", the film sparkles with humour and insights into the human condition, while following an impoverished family of scamsters which preys on the wealthy.

Consisting of dad Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Hyae Jin Chang), daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam), and son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) the Kim family live hand to mouth in their home in a slum area of Seoul.

Ki-woo uses false pretences to worm his way into the designer home of the wealthy Park family to tutor Da-hye (Jung Ziso), the pubescent daughter of Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), and his naive wife Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong). Soon enough, his sister Ki-jung gets hired as an art therapist for the Park’s precocious young son, Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun).

Some more cunningly-plotted schemes result in the Park’s chauffeur and loyal housekeeper Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) who harbours a sad secret replaced by Ki-taek and Chung-sook. Just as this family of cons gets comfortable (and complacent) there is a radical shift in their fortunes.

Bong’s film explores greed, the lack of fellow feeling and empathy on both sides of the class divide. His sympathy and compassion for the poor are palpable but he is unsparing in depicting their flaws. The poor are not innocent; if anything, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, with absolutely no compunctions in ripping off their rich selfish employers who hold their noses at their body odour. Clearly, the titular adjective can be applied to either side in this film.

Co-writing the clever, multi-genre script with Han Jin-won, director Bong casts a non-judgemental gaze on the existential battle between the desperation of the destitute and the callous indifference of the wealthy. How can you not help but notice the Park's waterproof tent in the garden and the flooded home of the Kims? Or two basements, one marked by abject squalor, the other, by undeserved comfort?

Bong must be over the moon after The Parasire made a clean sweep of the top honours at the prestigious Cannes Festival (Palme d’Or), at the Golden Globes (Best Director) and the Academy Awards bagging 6 Oscars in all, including Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Film, the first ever foreign language film to do so. Way to go!

Reviewed by Ronita Torcato