Director: Bong Joon-Ho
Writer: Bong Joon-Ho
Actors: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Jo Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-sik, Jang Hye-jin, Park So-dam
Year after year South Korea has proven that it is a powerhouse when it comes to arthouse movies. Although long overdue, they rightfully got the prestigious Palme d’Or and solidified their place in history as a country to look out for. I truly believe Korea is going through a golden age when it comes to these niche arthouse films. I know I have a bias towards Korea, but I cannot see how anyone else can ignore the incredible work this country has been producing. Parasite winning this award will further accelerate this aspect and hopefully inspire up and coming directors in Korea who dream to reach the status of the greats such as Bong Joon-ho, Lee Chang Dong or even Hong Sang Soo. These directors are not merely the greats of Korea, rather they transcend cultural boundaries and are among some of greatest living directors found today. When I heard Parasite won the Palme, I was ecstatic. I kept waiting for the day I could watch the film. As soon as I saw that it was available, I jumped right in, not knowing anything about it. What I did not expect was to laugh, gasp, and gloom all within the span of two hours. I was captivated from start to finish. It pulled me in and never let go. I could feel the passion running through every inch of this film and it manifested my whole being for those two hours and that feeling has barely faded out as I am writing this review. Although it is early in the review, I will say this now, it is a masterpiece in film. If you haven’t seen it, close this page and go watch it. It is a film that I can readily recommend to just about anyone. Although I prefer Lee Chang Dong’s movies as a whole, it is difficult for me to recommend his films as they are not for everyone. Parasite on the other hand must be seen by all. It is truly impeccable.
Parasite tells a story of a poor family who manages to con their way into working for an extremely wealthy business man. Each member of the family fills a role within the wealthy household. What started as a dark comedy that satirizes the lifestyle of the wealthy and the tenaciousness of the poor took a huge left turn halfway through the film. The discovery of the basement led to a series of events that culminated into one of the greatest scenes I have seen in modern cinema. The climax was bold, raw and full of rage, both from the characters and the director. You could feel the frustration that led Bong to create this story. The whole film is a grand commentary on the social divide that is plaguing the South Korean society. Every scene in this movie is meaningful in terms of further advancing Bong’s message. It is laser focused on what it wants to say and it doesn’t shy away from that. If any of you have read my review on Us you would remember how I criticized the film in not focusing enough on the thematic aspect of social inequality. Parasite gave me that focus. It is masterfully crafted to not only tell us, but more importantly show us what Koreans struggle with daily.
With the focus on social inequality we see the film riddled with imagery of this injustice in the Korean society. Mr. Kim’s family lives in a semi basement area where they are experiencing all of the horrible things that come with living that “low”, physically and metaphorically. On the other end of the spectrum we see Nathan Park’s house is high up, also physically and figuratively. You need to climb to reach their abode, signifying a difficulty in attaining that lifestyle. Although at face value this physical disparity in their living states may seem minute, but it plays a key role at the end of the film. When the heavy rain starts to pour, the Park’s merely find it as an inconvenience that it forced them to cancel their trip. Nothing else. Whereas for Kim’s family, it was an utter destruction, leading to the flooding of their house with not only rain water but also sewage water. Further signifying their status in society as the bottom of the totem pole. Yet even during this hellish experience, Ki-jung decides to sit back and smoke calmly. Although brief, this scene was key in showing truly what the lower class are feeling. Even after losing everything they are nonchalant about the fact. It is because nothing around them matters. It is all shit. Adding more shit does not make things any worse than it already is. They are living in a perpetual state of awfulness that adding any more agony won’t change anything. This is mirrored in Kim’s statement that “Nothing matters”, even if you kill someone or betray your country, it wont change anything. As in when you are that low on the social status your actions as an individual mean absolutely nothing. This thought actually tied into a scene that stuck in my mind but I couldn’t really figure out what it meant until now. Where during the end of the film Ki-Woo puts back the “lucky rock” that Min gave him into the river. That rock that was unique and distinct has now become part of a whole. It sort of mirrors what I said earlier, as an individual that low in the totem pole your actions mean nothing. But as a whole it may amount to something much more. This is obviously just speculation, I will need to watch this film again in order to fully understand that scene. Aside from that we can see many juxtaposing imagery painted throughout the film. The way that Mrs. Park casually picks out her clothes in her lavish closet while the needy are clawing their way into a pile of wet and dirty clothes after the flood. It is a striking image. And also one that demonstrates the percentiles that live in the top echelon of society as compared to the bottom. Mrs. Park is one of few who are living this life, yet in the gym we see a huge crowd of people. It just makes you realize that in every neighborhood you would be able to see a similar sized crowd in another gym or community center acting the same way. This is what Bong is trying to show us. The divide is getting larger. More people are struggling and less are moving into the upper class.
One of the key reasons for this disparity between classes in South Korea is the lack of opportunities. With a population of 50 million people and a very hierarchical culture its no wonder why there are so few opportunities. I have personally experienced this first hand. Having lived in South Korea for five and a half years, I saw the injustice everywhere I went. A story that stood out for me happened a year before my graduation. My friends and I were out having dinner at a restaurant when the waitress struck up a conversation with us. She asked where we were from and what University we went to. To my surprise she happened to have attended the same University. I asked if she was working here part-time or something. She told me no, she had already graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree. I was so shocked, how can someone with such a sought after degree from one of the top universities in Korea be working at a restaurant. She told me no one would accept her, too many people would apply and only a couple would get accepted. This is the key issue in Korea. There are far too many capable people and so few opportunities. Furthermore the culture continues to feed this ever growing gap between the rich and the poor. Well-off parents can afford to get their kids into private schools, which allows them to easily get into the top universities, which then allows them to get the best jobs. And the cycle goes on. I remember hearing from my Korean colleagues how most of the people in our university were picked from top private schools and barely any get accepted from public ones. That is the injustice that Bong wanted to paint, although he did not show it directly, but it is heavily implied. You could see even in the film how the whole family were more than capable of performing their jobs that they “conned” their way into. It is just that the opportunity is lost upon them because they don’t fit that standard.
Parasite is an insanely deep and complex film. It is a project filled with passion and anger on the current status of Korean citizens. It is conveyed beautifully by the actors and the story. How Mr. Park explains the aspect of the smell of “people who use the subway”. Again showing the insane amount of people he is referring to, because most people use the subway in Korea. Moving along, I focused too much on the themes and not enough on the actual film. However to me, they both go hand in hand. Regardless, the film itself is constructed flawlessly. The first half sets up the second so skillfully that although the film takes a sudden shift tonally and story-wise. It does not feel too absurd or ridiculous because the image Bong painted from the beginning has prepared us for such a change. I thought the pacing leading up to the second half was also great. As well as the dog eat dog nature of Kim’s family and the old housekeeper vying for their jobs with the Park’s. It shows how much the lower class must struggle in order to attain a glimmer of opportunity while the upper class just plays around with their lives as if it is nothing. The film obviously reaches to a climax that took everyone by surprise. But on a closer look you could see the culmination of it coming for a while. Mr. Kim is seen constantly becoming more irritable at his situation and the way he is being treated. Park’s overall disregard for his family and the lower class created this pent up anger that he could not hold on for much longer. The final nail in the coffin was when Park so arrogantly held his nose as he picked up the key for his Benz, disregarding the two people who are bleeding out on his lawn. I can go on and on but this review is already dragging on for too long. I just want to touch on the ending quickly before wrapping up. The entire film’s themes leads perfectly into the ending in my opinion. As I explained Bong is trying to show the injustice of Korean society and the lack of opportunities that is given to the lower class. The film ends with Ki-woo promising his dad he will make a lot of money in order to buy the house and ultimately free his father. The ending is up to your interpretation as a viewer. If you believe that against all odds Ki-woo can actually make it in this harsh society, then he will fulfill his promise. However, with the bleak image that Bong has painted, it is hard to fathom anything other than utter failure. Ki-woo will probably fade into obscurity as did the distinct rock among all others in the river. It may be bleak, but it is what the director was trying to convey. We live in a society that is not fair. You are either a lucky host, or you are one of the millions of parasites feeding on it. Nothing else.