‘Parasyte: The Grey’ Review: Yeon Sang-ho Exquisitely Evolves Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Manga In Netflix Series


Aliens invading Earth by pretending to be humans is a tale as old as time. John W. Campbell Junior’s Who Goes There? touched on that topic all the way in the late ’30s, which was then adapted twice as feature films. In the ’50s, Jack Finney gave us The Body Snatchers, which spawned four official feature film adaptations and has served as the inspiration for countless other Hollywood films and shows. It seemingly crossed borders in the late ’80s and was channeled through Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte. It took the form of an anime series and then a two-part live-action film. And while I was lukewarm on the manga and the anime (because the writing around the female characters was abysmal), I didn’t like the movies at all. So, due to the aforementioned reasons and since live-action adaptations of manga are very hit-or-miss, I was obviously apprehensive about Parasyte: The Grey. However, I am glad to report that it’s actually great!

Yeon Sang-ho’s Parasyte: The Grey, which he has co-written with Ryu Yong-jae, tells the story of Jeong Su-in, an employee at a retail store, who is almost killed by an incel and saved by a parasite that lands on Earth as a part of a global alien invasion. Usually, these parasites are supposed to eat the brain of their host and then puppeteer the human body while appearing as humans so that they can get close to other humans and eat them until there are no humans left. But since Heidi (that’s the name Su-in’s parasite gets later on in the show) is preoccupied with healing Su-in’s stab wounds, she doesn’t get to take control of her body, and that’s why Su-in becomes a mutant. Elsewhere, the leader of the parasites in South Korea forms a cult-like outfit at the Saejin Church to further their agenda. A crook named Seol Kang-woo finds himself in the middle of this chaos because of the fates of his sisters. And it seems like the only thing standing between survival and total oblivion is a special anti-parasite force, The Grey, led by Choi Jun-kyung.

It’s funny that talented artists can make the difficult task of adapting a manga and bypassing the legacy of the anime look so easy. My biggest concern regarding Parasyte: The Grey was the treatment of the women in the show, and Yeon Sang-ho and Ryu Yong-jae made it look like a walk in the park. I mean, the manga and the anime put the bar underground by resorting to all kinds of stereotypes when it came to the portrayal of the female characters in the narrative. So, it was insanely refreshing to see Su-in, Heidi, Jun-kyung, and Kyung-hee have actual character arcs, layers, flaws, and motivations that drive the plot forward. I know that’s writing 101, but given how rare that is nowadays, I’ll cherish it loudly. In addition to that, I loved the expansion of the manga’s philosophies around humanity, self-preservation, and the superiority complex. Since the show isn’t a remake but a sequel, it managed to subvert expectations with some great twists to explore the toxic nature of humans and how it can cause carnivorous and shape-shifting aliens to betray their own. On top of all that, the writers managed to make time for some much-needed critique of law-enforcement authorities, politicians, the act of warmongering, and the victim-blaming habit of South Asian societies.

The manga and the anime were largely comedic in nature, with occasional bursts of gore and existentialism. However, what works for one medium doesn’t necessarily work for another medium, as proven by the live-action movies. Even though it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, it was great to see Yeon Sang-ho continue his command over tone in Parasyte: The Grey. The show is deadly serious about everything that is unfolding before the characters’ eyes. It’s funny when there’s no space for seriousness. It tugs at your heartstrings during moments of desperation. And, with the help of great visual effects and CGI, the show manages to emulate the surrealism of the manga and the anime, too. The action sequences are fantastic. There’s some great wirework, camerawork, stunt work, drone work, editing, CGI, and VFX at play in those scenes. The anime had given a guideline for tentacle-based fights. But Yeon Sang-ho and his team took that and somehow made it so much more kinetic. The only minor issue I have with the show is due to the lighting and texture. Apart from a few shots here and there, it has that “Netflix look” that I hate. Like I said, though, it’s a minor issue, and if I am not focusing on it too hard, I don’t really notice it.

The cast of Parasyte: The Grey is phenomenal. Jeon So-nee’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” act is unbelievable. I was so certain that the show was going to do the “talking to the parasite hand” thing that I was legitimately surprised to see it take the Fight Club route. But, instead of doing it with two actors, Jeon So-nee is portraying both Heidi and Su-in, and the pitch of the performances is so wildly different that it seems like those two characters are being played by two different actors! This is right up there with Shah Rukh Khan’s performances as Aryan and Gaurav. Koo Kyo-hwan is the comedic relief of the show, with an undercurrent of tragedy. Every time he gets spooked by Heidi, it is so cute. Lee Jung-hyun perfectly portrays Jun-kyung’s ability to use her maniacal and sinister actions to hide the pain that she is feeling. It’s a truly unhinged performance, and I loved it. Kwo Hae-hyo brings a sense of warmth to this horrifying show, and Kim In-kwon offsets it with vibes that are so pathetic that it’ll make you cringe (this is a compliment because that’s the purpose of the character). The rest of the supporting cast is genuinely fantastic, and all of them should be rewarded with a round of applause.

Parasyte: The Grey is a great extension of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s manga, while also being a relevant piece of art that comments about the times that we are living in. Actually, I feel that it goes perfectly with Sang-ho’s previous Netflix series, Hellbound, which dealt with mortality, cults, and the weaponization of religion. So, if you can take a heavy dose of existentialism and survive, then I highly recommend giving both of them a watch. I am aware of how the Netflix algorithm works and how the streaming platform needs a certain amount of views to greenlight a second season. But, given how Sang-ho has given them Hellbound (which is getting a second season, I suppose) and Jung_E, I think they should greenlight the second season of Parasyte already. They can’t let that teaser at the end go to waste, can they? Well, it’s Netflix, so anything can happen. Meanwhile, I’ll be rooting for Sang-ho and his team to get the chance to flesh out the world of humans and shape-shifting parasites in the future.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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