A blood-soaked fable, the latest from South Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho (The Host, Snowpiercer, Okja) starts simply: The dirt-poor Kim Ki-Taek (the superb Song Kang Ho, a Bong regular) is out of work. He and his wife Chung Sook (Jang Hye Jin) squeeze into a dumpy sub-basement where strangers piss and puke outside their window. In a sly joke about social imperatives, the family doesn’t even have Wi-Fi unless they steal it from a neighbor. That’s a real bummer for the grown Kim children, daughter Ki-Jeong (Park So Dam) and son Ki-Woo (Choi Woo Shik). Lucky for Ki-Woo, however, a friend owes him a favor and his sister can fake a diploma. Soon, he’s hired as an English tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park clan.
It’s that job that kicks the plot into motion. Ki-woo finds quite a fan in his student, the teenage Da-Hye (Jung-Hye) who crushes on him instantly. The young man is more seduced by the wealth and lifestyle of his employers, however — no matter that the entrepreneurial Mr. Park (Lee Sun Kyun) radiates entitlement. His wife, Yeon-Kyo (Cho Yeo Jeong), is so impressed by the boy’s teaching abilities that she mentions her need for a tutor to improve the painting skills of her younger son, Da-Song (Jung Hyeon Jun). Ki-Woo recommends Ki-Jeong without telling the Parks she’s his sister.
Soon the plan escalates. Why not have his mother replace the Park’s live-in housekeeper (Jeong Eun Lee), by whatever sinister means necessary. And who better than his dad to replace the family chauffeur behind the wheel of the Mercedes? It’s not long before the Kims, pretending not to be related, have basically occupied the Park household in a military-like coup. It’s a home invasion on an insidious scale. And though Parasite sends out wickedly funny darts on class warfare, the situation quickly turns dangerous and deadly. It starts as a class-conscious satire. It ends as a portrait of a world at war with itself.
No spoilers, except to say that Bong — the first Korean filmmaker to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes — lowers the boom in ways not dissimilar to his shock tactics in 2006’s The Host. But this time human greed is the monster, eating away at the very concept of right and wrong. Who are the parasites here: the Kims who co-opt a family for their own financial gain? Or the Parks who exploit the Kims as servants paid to do their will? The movie dissects the universal gap between the haves and the have-nots with shocking wit, stinging topicality and gut-wrenching violence. It’s explosive filmmaking on every level.