“If I had all this, I would be kinder.” So says Kim Ki-taek (played by Song Kang-ho), one of the main characters in the film Parasite, of his new employers’ home. It’s a modern mansion filled with burnished wood, polished glass, and every resource imaginable—the polar opposite of where Ki-taek lives with his family, a subterranean hovel that peers out onto a back alley in Seoul. To the Kims, the sparkling estate is like a promised land, only a few neighborhoods over from their home and yet completely out of reach.
Those two abodes are at the center of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, a loopily brilliant drama that might be the most thrilling film of the year—as well as the funniest and the most trenchant. Few filmmakers can manage such a dizzying blend of tones, but for Bong, one of South Korea’s finest directors, it’s a trademark. With Parasite he’s crafted his best movie yet, no easy accomplishment for the man behind genre-defining works such as Memories of Murder, The Host, and Snowpiercer, which helped bring Korean cinema to international audiences. Parasite, which unanimously won this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is the definition of a must-see experience.
As with many great films, the less you know about Parasite’s story (written by Bong and Han Jin-won), the better. Bong’s plots often seem to exist in a mode of perpetual, spontaneous creation, fizzing with new ideas and twisting in unexpected directions; Parasite is unusual in that it has only one big twist (Okja had at least a dozen). That approach speaks to the intimacy of this film, which is largely set in the aforementioned two residences—one belonging to the Kim family, who live in relative poverty, and the other to the Park family, whose stylish dwelling is like a walled city overflowing with high-tech creature comforts.