Bong Joon-ho has the panache of a master showman and the cunning of a regime-toppling agitator. His films are trenchant commentary gussied up into inspired entertainments, impressing as dervishes of audacity. Parasite, representing Bong’s return to South Korean filmmaking after a couple efforts within the U.S. system, can be fairly described as a thriller in its basic particulars. One family schemes to infiltrate the lives of another, out of a need for subsistence rather than menace. Complications arise and quickly grow into full-scale problems, and danger comes bobbing along. The mechanics of the narrative move with a Swiss watch precision rarely seen since the glory years of the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock. Details are skillfully introduced, then held into reserve until the optimum moment to deploy their inner secrets, the best to wring the movie ever tighter.
Parasite is about more than testing the tension levels to which an audience can be safely taken. The screenplay, co-credited to Bong and Han Jin-won, concerns itself with the class divisions that weigh down upon a society, keeping one group of people below another (in the the film’s rendering, quite literally) for reasons that amount to little more than initial luck and then coldly orchestrated stasis. For those held back, it takes strategizing on the level of a Danny Ocean heist to secure even the most menial positions, and even then the modest upward mobility can be undone on a whim, the feigned camaraderie of wealthy employers rapidly festering into imperious contempt at the mildest challenge to their cavalierly imposed authority. That Bong can play with such heady and disheartening concepts and still make a film that is a devilish delight speaks to his uncommon skill as a filmmaker. Parasite is a splendid showcase for a modern master.