“Parasyte: The Grey” is a genre blend of science fiction, suspense, exploitation cinema, and comedy, which is a characteristic approach of Far Eastern creators.

Odys Korczyński

8 April 2024

The latest Netflix production from South Korea indeed might bring to mind Marvel’s Venom, as it tells the story of parasites that attack humans and take over their bodies. One of them even manages to enter into a symbiotic relationship with the main protagonist to weave an interesting tale about our species, which these parasites try to learn from, dominate, and thus survive. Will this be valuable learning, or will the aliens “morally corrupt” themselves like us? The skillful presentation in the series of this inter-species ethical transformation is the most valuable part of “Parasyte: The Grey”. The series is the latest adaptation of a late ’80s manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki, with the previous animated version also available on Netflix titled “Parasyte: The Maxim”. This allows us to compare the approaches of Koreans and Japanese and what changed in the live-action version.

A lot has changed, for example, the way the parasite manifests in the main character and its gender, which may be shocking for many fans of the 2014 animated series. However, it has its justification, such as now the Koreans have made the lead character a female actress, for whom it was more suggestive to have a female protagonist of low social status, with the parasite revealing itself like in other infected individuals, through changes in the appearance of the head. In the anime, it’s mostly about the head, and incomplete body takeovers result in the foreign entity settling in the hand. Changing just the hand in the live-action version would resemble superhero antics too much, which Su-in Jeong is not. Thus, the creators of this latest manga adaptation avoided comparisons to another superhero production. They wanted to create a story about the morality of our species, which becomes fully apparent only from an outsider’s perspective when another sentient species tries to assimilate with our society through covert conquest. Covert meaning the parasite had to learn how to behave in a group and over time, those copied behaviors became its own. Then came the bitter reflection that by copying our ethics and customs, the aliens became like us, and by becoming like us, they lost their own identity, which objectively, was always more rational and pragmatic than ours. And against this backdrop, almost like on a painter’s canvas, “Parasyte: The Grey” depicted our parasitic image, which we’ve tried to cover with lofty symbols over the centuries, convincing ourselves that we are (at least some of us) better than needed for survival.

And for what? Living such a lie, moreover institutionalized, increases suffering inflicted on others, paradoxically not contributing to our own development and preservation. Some aliens adopt this trait from us, sparking terror in the rest. To better blend in, they even establish a religious organization, a church, which they deemed a model cover for their invasive actions. However, rules borrowed from humans lead to degradation of social relations among aliens and their moral principles, much like they led to degradation of human morality. There’s a scene where one of the infected sees from a bus as her compatriot in a policeman’s body cold-bloodedly murders one of their own. It shocks her because she never knew or felt what humans call BETRAYAL. She only knew the word she heard. She thought the parasitic community of aliens was always unyielding unity, but that turned out to be a lie when they encountered humans. Power and betrayal radically change the aliens, who visually resemble larval earthly insects. Appearance and motives, however, are two different things, especially for conscious beings. It turns out that humans are very dangerous parasites, capable of defending themselves by changing the enemy’s way of thinking, which they will perceive as their natural trait.

“Parasyte: The Grey” is a genre blend of science fiction, suspense, exploitation cinema, and comedy, which is a characteristic approach of Far Eastern creators. They mix themes, emotions, settings, and action rhythms in a way often unintuitive for us from the West. Similarly, they also play their roles. Therefore, I warn that one should take this into account in this case. The downside of the production is the stereotypical antagonists, essentially incapable of any deeper reflection on their actions, and I’m not referring to the aliens, which is, in turn, a positive surprise. The plot moves forward quickly, in unfortunately cheap outdoor settings, making them look narrow. CGI is used judiciously due to costs, but when we do see the aliens in full, their image is seamlessly integrated with real elements. Criticism might arise about creature design—they can sometimes seem too plant-like, which removes their seriousness and prompts a smile. Perhaps that was the intention, as the Koreans made this series with a clear wink. However, I am confident that these 6 episodes of exposure to cinema vastly different from our geographical breadth will provide viewers with good entertainment and make them aware that Korea and Japan can also compete with their productions against Western blockbusters. And comparing it to Venom only favors “Parasyte”. Venom, against the Korean series, is surprisingly weaker production.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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