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'Parasyte: The Grey' season 1 review: Netflix sci-fi thriller is here to invade

Jeon So-nee with a parasite tentacle coming out of her head

Don't let the leeches pick your brains because they'll become tentacle-y veins. That might sound weird out-of-context but that's why you have watched the first season of Parasyte: The Grey (기생수: 더 그레이 in Korean) or have read Iwaaki Hitoshi's manga 'Parasyte' (寄生獣 in Japanese) that it is based on.

Introduced as an expansion to the original text and its world-building rather than a straightforward adaptation, the sci-fi thriller series follows Jeong Su-in (Jeon So-nee), a 29-year-old grocery store clerk who becomes a mutant after an alien parasite attacks her but fails to take full control of her as other parasites, who have mysteriously infiltrated the Korean city of Namil, have successfully done to other people. Special agent Choi Jun-kyung (Lee Jung-hyun) is put in charge of a task force called ''Team Grey'' that hunts down the creatures who are now disguising as humans and committing murders. Su-in also becomes a target, despite only being symbiotic with her parasite, but finds help from career criminal Seol Kang-woo (Koo Kyo-hwan) and friendly detective Kim Chul-min (Kwon Hae-hyo) who's working alongside agent Choi.

Writer-director Yeon Sang-ho and writer Ryu Yong-jae as the showrunners are able to establish their idea of this expansion effectively right from the get-go, with the excellent first episode instantly introducing our main characters, genre-blending style and the central conflict as well as you'd hope. The strongest element of those is hands down the style and how much fun the filmmakers are having while executing it. If you happen to be aware of Yeon's previous work, it doesn't come as a surprise that there's plenty of ingenuity to be found in the show's propulsive action scenes (helmed by Yu Mi-jin who's credited as the action director) that combine cleverly utilised VFX (supervised by Hong Jeong-ho), talented stunt professionals, restrained editing* and solid cinematography*. Whether we're watching gory horror madness or your typical crime thriller narratives, ''Grey'' at least always looks superb.

Yeon and Ryu's writing on the other hand is much more unrefined since there's a lot of awkward plotting, exposition about characters' backstories and an ungodly amount of throwaway lines, which is particularly disappointing for a show that succeeds in its visual storytelling for the most part. From episode three onwards, their writing style is more often than not loosely connecting threads just so we can get to the next action scene where the parasites come out to play. That type of carelessness does get tiresome pretty fast, which drags down the pace severely because the dialogue and character motivations become tools rather than nuances that actors can then use in their performances. Some of that carelessness also appears in the sound mix* and score* as the sound quality in dialogue scenes and mixing of the music can even be amateurish, specifically in episode two which almost seems like it's unfinished.

With that said, the main cast do what they can with that material. Jeon gets an acting showcase with what is essentially a dual role and she handles those transitions finely, Koo shows some action star chops with some elaborate sequences, whilst Kwon inhabits the familiar tired cop character and Lee becomes a believable, morally grey adversary as the story moves along.

What is restricting those performances and the dialogue mainly is the lack of focus in the writing thus far. The parasites gathering in a church setting like a cult and wanting to worm their way into politics offers a chance to comment on corruption or the separation of church and state but that's not explored; Su-in's body and mind being violated could be a catalyst for a conversation about violence but that's not explored; or perhaps if the series wants to be about harmony between humans and nature or another species, it is not exploring that notion very well in these six episodes. The answers to the evergreen question ''What is this scene about?'' are generally confusing.

If Grey wants to be a long-running show, it needs to find something to say after amazing action, effects and gore stop distracting you. So far, it mostly functions as a demo reel (exemplified by that second episode mentioned above) for all that cool creature mayhem. Many, including yours truly, will enjoy that to an extent but surely there are more shades of grey in these characters and their relationships than this first season reveals.

Smileys: Stunt choreography, VFX

Frowneys: Dialogue, sound mixing, writing

Hanging out with Jeong-yll and Heidi.


[*Editor's note: We apologise for missing credits. Press materials provided by Netflix listed only some of the key creatives involved in the series.]

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