Parasite is the first Korean film to win a Palme d’Or and the highest grossing foreign language film in the U.S. in 2019. It’s rendered as ‘the movie of the year’ by the New York Times and is set to be nominated for the Academy Awards.
It’s a definite must-watch.
I believe the film’s global success has much to do with the fact that the film tackles one of the biggest global threats we’re facing nowadays; inequality. Right from the start, the viewer is presented to an impoverished, unemployed family of four that purposely leaves their windows open as the neighborhood is fumigated to get rid of the pests they harbor themselves at home. The characters choke, the audience laughs; they have met the Kim family.
By a stroke of luck, the son of the family, Ki-Woo, is offered the opportunity of working as a tutor to the daughter of one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of South Korea; Mr. Parker. A life of luxury unfolds before the magnetized eyes of the Kims and, certainly, to the audience as they’re introduced to the filthy-rich Parkers.
The gap between both families’ realities is so huge, it feels satirical. But it’s not. Economic inequality is real and it’s growing out of control, and director Bong Joon-ho stresses this. The interesting thing is, the storytelling does not fall into the stereotypical romanticization of the poor classes and demonization of the upper bourgeoisie. No one is spared from criticism. Parasite is not trying to defend the proletariat, but rather expose the global unequal distribution of income and opportunity that create huge gaps between societal divisions.
However, apart from being concerned with imposing social criticism, Bong was concerned with the interaction between the characters; the Kims and the Parkers; the poor and the rich.
We get to know about both families by the interaction not only between and within themselves, but also with the houses they inhabit. Eighty percent of the story happens inside both families’ homes. The symbolic language of the two is far from arbitrary. In fact, both settings were built from scratch. Kim’s home is a semi-basement, a semi-underground household common in South Korea’s lower classes, usually dark and humid. As Bong explains, the house is a metaphor for the character’s psychology. So, when people ask Bong where in Seoul the neighborhood is in which Kim’s house is set, or who the hyper-rich family is who owns Parker’s home, Bong smiles with satisfaction; he has created a universe.
The audience is allowed to get a grasp of this universe that is made highly relatable by the compelling power of the film’s narrative, and as it develops they get to see how the Kims gain the Parker’s trust and use this to infiltrate the millionaire’s home. The infiltration is hilarious, it feels like a perfect comedy. But an unexpected turn of events paves the way for a stomach-turning plot twist that results in horror. And the comedy becomes a tragedy.
To summarize, as Bong said in his so accurate statement, the film is “(…) a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains, all leading to a violent tangle and a headlong plunge down the stairs.”
Written by Martine Wu