Parasite, a film by Bong Joon-ho, follows the perpetually poor Kim family as they scam the wealthy Park family by posing as professionals while keeping their relationship a secret. For example, the son of the Kim household, Ki-Woo, pretends to be an English tutor, and introduces the Parks to his sister, who poses as an art tutor
The film’s first half is one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years. We feel bad seeing the Kims scam the Parks, but at the same time, it’s also hysterical to see the naive Parks fall for the Kims’ clever schemes. However, the Kims aren’t unlikeable for scamming the Parks.
In the opening, the filmmakers focus on the Kims as they miserably attempt to earn enough money for dinner. The production designer, Lee Ja-Hun, creates two distinct houses for the Kims and the Parks that perfectly capture their different standards of living. The Kims live in the slums of urban South Korea and are forced to take residence in a semi-basement, while the Parks live in a spacious, elaborate, and slick mansion. When we are inside the Parks’ residence, there’s a sense of relief, as if we’ve escaped the claustrophobic and shabby semi-basement with the Kims. We can justify the Kims’ actions as they’re trying to do what’s best for them.
In its essence, it is an exploration of class divisions. In a lesser film, it would’ve depicted the Kims as Robin Hood like heros and the Parks as the mustache-twirling villains, or perhaps the Kims would be depicted as despicable scoundrels and the Parks as the kind-hearted and innocent victims. However, Parasite isn’t a lesser film. Neither the poor nor the wealthy are the heroes or villains. The Parks are cringe-inducingly classist and hopelessly oblivious to the plight of the lower-class, but they aren’t malicious. The Kims are committing fraud, but they aren’t unlikeable. We root for all parties simultaneously, even if they are opposing each other. That’s where the brilliance of Parasite shines. It mimics reality, where there aren’t any clear heroes or villains in any class. Parasite isn’t a one-dimensional satire declaring that the wealthy are wrong for being classist nor the poor are wrong for deceiving the wealthy.The message is that our class system enables people to dehumanize those that aren’t in their own social status and how these class divisions can lead to horrible outcomes.
(This paragraph contains some very minor spoilers, but if you want absolutely nothing to be spoiled, then skip this paragraph). One criticism against Parasite is that the Kims should’ve been more sympathetic to others in their own social status, especially since they’re in the same dilemma. Firstly, conflicts are necessary to make any story interesting. Star Wars would’ve been pretty boring if Darth Vader and the Empire were nicer to the Rebels. Secondly, the Kims cutthroat and ruthless attitude adds to the films’ social commentary. Even though it’s objectively better for the lower class to unite and elevate to higher living together(not necessarily in a Communist Revolution-style), the lower class still fight amongst themselves just for a chance to get a higher social status. In South Korea, there is extreme competition amongst poor people to get into a prestigious university so they can get a well-paying job(sound familiar?). These spots are extremely limited, yet students compete for them each year.
Few movies have been as thought-provoking as Parasite. After seeing Parasite, I thought about how privileged I’ve been to not have to deal with many of the difficulties that others may have had to endure. I think many of us take for granted that we are in a sheltered environment like Wheatley, where we don’t know many people with problems that families like the Kims may have to deal with.
Parasite was the first foreign film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It also won Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. While I thought 1917 was a strong contender for these awards, I believe the Academy made the right decision to pick Parasite. 1917 was a great film, but it was a fairly conventional war film(notwithstanding it’s one-shot style). You knew which plot points were going to happen in 1917. However, Parasite was unlike any film I saw, and I’ve seen many movies. You can’t predict what will happen in the film’s second half, but the climax will exceed any expectations you will make. No movie has ever balanced comedy, drama, thriller, and sometimes horror so expertly. In some scenes, the film is all these genres simultaneously. Parasite didn’t receive any acting nominations, but all the performances were so great that it’d be impossible to choose which actor was the best.
Parasite is in Korean, so you’ll have to bear with the horror of subtitles. I promise, the movie’s so entertaining and engrossing that within the first act, you’ll forget that you’re reading subtitles. I don’t know anyone who would dislike this movie, regardless of how much Korean they knew. As director Bong Joon-ho said in his speech at the Golden Globes, “Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you’ll be introduced to so many more amazing films”.