I love watching movies without knowing much about them; that’s why I avoid trailers and try not to read articles in the run-up to a film’s release. Seeing Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite with a clean slate made it an overwhelming experience: that’s how original and unusual it is. What begins as a clever social satire about the haves and have-nots in our world morphs into an ingenious (and violent) thriller with endless story twists.

To reveal any of those plot points would be shameful. I just watched the trailer and was happy to see that Neon, the U.S. distributor, managed to capture the spirit of the movie without giving anything away—no minor feat.

At the outset of the story we meet the Kim family, who are barely scraping by, living in a crowded cellar on a filthy street and stealing a wi-fi signal from their neighbor. They are accustomed to making do but aren’t happy about their situation. Things start to brighten when the teenage son lucks into a tutoring job and makes a good impression on the mother of his pupil, the spoiled daughter of the wealthy Park family. The mother is taken with her new tutor and asks if he knows someone who can help her son with art lessons. Of course he does; he simply chooses not to reveal that the new “art teacher” is his sister. Bit by bit, the Kim family insinuates itself into the Park household.

That’s as much as you’ll get out of me. Parasite won the coveted Palm D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and I can’t think of a better choice. Bong made his name with films like The Host, but I became a fan when I saw Mother in 2009. Like this film, it is incredibly gripping but filled with observational details that add an extra layer to the narrative. The director scripted Parasite with Han Jin Won, who until now has been his assistant director. He has also collaborated with his leading actor, Song Kang Ho, for more than twenty years. His performance as the father of the struggling Kim family is superb, matched by the entire ensemble.

Nothing else I’ve seen all year compares to this film. It’s funny, inventive, relevant, and full of surprises. You never know what’s coming next.

Reviewing Parasite isn’t easy because I don’t want to be a spoiler. If blanket praise isn’t enough to intrigue you, I encourage you to watch the trailer online. It won’t give anything away either.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024