Placing itself at the forefront of the foreign language category this awards season, Parasite, by Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercers, Okja), is extremely watchable but by no means an easy watch.

The film starts off as a black comedy, albeit it with sinister undertones.

Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) is an unemployed husband to wife Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang) and father to two equally jobless children in their twenties, daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) and son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik). 

The Kim family live underground in a squalid half-basement, mooching everything they can off the life above them. 

From the Wi-fi, only available high up in the corner of their toilet, to free pest fumigation by simply leaving the windows open. The clan is clearly living on the edges.

Hye-jin Jang and Woo-sik Choi in Parasite
Hye-jin Jang and Woo-sik Choi in Parasite C: CJ Entertainment

Theirs is a life of humiliation, but as Ki-woo gets offered a lucrative tutoring job by a wealthy friend of his, they see a way out. 

As he gets favourably welcomed into the Park family’s mansion and into their lives, so slowly the entire Kim family tries to weasel their way in.

Through a chain of deceitful recommendations on family Kim’s side, and a blissful lack of background checks from the Park’s, their two worlds spectacularly collide, much like the Capulets and the Montagues. 

Just as Snowpiercer was his “hallway movie,” Bong Joon-ho has now labelled Parasite his “stairway movie.” 

In Downton Abbey fashion, Parasite explores the mutual need of upstairs and downstairs people. Not only in a physical sense, but a metaphorical one also.  

Bong Joon-ho’s success with this film comes from the fact that it is a universal story that could be set in Korea just as well as in London, New York or LA, or virtually anywhere in the world. 

Kang-ho Song and Woo-sik Choi in Parasite
Kang-ho Song and Woo-sik Choi in Parasite C: CJ Entertainment

As the families move closer together, the web of lies becomes heavier and heavier to maintain.

The comedy begins to gradually turn violent as the slapstick quickly leaks into horror until, finally, the laughter gives way to disgust. 

What carries this shift are without a doubt the immaculate performances. The deeper down the stairs we and they go, the more the individuals take up roach-like postures and movements. 

Ultimately, the ensemble of characters become more beast than man.

In the end though, while the stations may have changed, the roles remain the same. As there will always be a staircase, there will people atop of it and some down below. 

Verdict: ★★★★★