From Okja and Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho comes Best Picture Oscar winner Parasite, a South Korean dark comedy about a poor family lying their way into working for a rich family in order to improve their bleak living conditions.
The film focuses on the Kims, who live in a small basement apartment and are desperate for a better life. When they're not studying or doing the odd poorly paid and thankless job like packing pizza boxes, they try to cut corners by attempting to use their neighbors' wifi or getting rid of cockroaches by letting in anti-pest fumes through their window when the pest control guy patrols the alleyway above, where drunks often go to throw up. Through a contact, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), the son, is given the temporary opportunity to take over tutoring the daughter of the well-off Park family. This opens the Kims up to using this idea of trusted contacts in order to infiltrate the Park household by each doing a different job for them. They pretend to be virtual strangers, sabotage the people already working for the Parks and everything goes according to plan... until it doesn't.
Much has been said about the themes explored in Parasite and, indeed, you don't see this poor/rich dynamic done in such a bold way very often. Recent release Knives Out attempted something along the same lines but Parasite never sugarcoats the Kims, which could have come off as condescending and often does whenever, incidentally, an Oscar-nominated film tries to reach out to minorities or people below the middle class. Green Book, for example, probably had its heart in the right place but its dated execution left many cold. The Kims may be the victims of a society that turns everyone into parasites but so are the Parks: Bong Joon-ho wisely avoids the "poor people are inherently good" and "rich people are inherently bad" dichotomy, instead taking aim at the system as a whole to show how it dehumanizes people in different ways, breeding resentment, desperation, even violence between them.
Of course, there is a power imbalance here as well with the Parks having all of it throughout, by virtue of their wealth, despite the Kims' best attempts at levelling things somewhat so the Kims were doomed from the start. This dynamic, along with a shocking twist halfway through, leads to some nail-biting conflicts within the Parks' swanky house and it reaches a boiling point by the end.
This is a carefully crafted film with slick cinematography, clever (if sometimes a bit too on-the-nose) motifs and excellent performances so its popularity at award shows was deserved, though one has to wonder why movies from all over the world are only recognized by the Academy once in a blue moon. South Korean directors like Kim Ki-duk, Park Chan-wook and many others have plenty of masterpieces under their belt but they have been largely ignored by most bigger award shows. The good news is that Parasite's big wins could be the start of the Academy finally looking past its own Oscar bait and selecting more arthouse fare from all over to celebrate. Then again, the Oscars being what they are, it might also be a one-off nod, which would be a shame but not all that surprising.
Parasite is a funny, sometimes shocking, often very good film that never goes quite how you expect it to go. The ending might be its weakest element as it feels a bit too spontaneous when it had been so darn tight up until that point but it still works well enough. This is definitely one of 2019's best and it's well worth checking out but I encourage you to seek out a lot more South Korean films as well, whether Hollywood promotes them or not.