Parasite (2019): You Expect it to be One Thing, but it Mutates into Something Else

Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho), is a complex and faceted multi-genre movie that follows the journey of the destitute Kim family as they form a relationship with the wealthy Park family on a foundation of threatening greed and class-discrimination. Members of the Kim family find their way into the lives of the Park family through lies and forgery for what starts off to be financial gain, but later grows into selfish and malicious intent. The movie had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival earlier this May. Since then, Parasite has won many awards, including the New York Film Critics Circle Award, Blue Dragon Film Award, British Independent Film Award, AACTA Award, Golden Globes, and Palme d’Or (the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival).

Although the uncovered messages in this film can be related to disparities found between rich and poor people from all around the world, it specifically focuses on the shame that comes with being “less than comfortable” in South Korea. This exposé film was explicit and unapologetic about how it illustrated the struggles and inevitable fate of impoverished Korean households. Watching this movie was bittersweet; I found myself thinking of a family I personally know who lives in a semi-basement home, similar to where the Kim family is introduced at the beginning of this film. There are many interviews where Bong emphasized the physical placement of the Kim family is relative to their placement in society – all though they are underground, they are still able to see a sliver of the outside world through a narrow window located near the ceiling of their home. When Ki-taek (father of the Kim family) is faced with a man who lives in an entirely underground basement, he is adamant about clarifying their differences when the man tries to compare Ki-taek’s desperation to his own. Ki-taek’s family has hope, and they can see it through the window of their home. On the contrary, the Park family resides in a secluded development, which is found at the end of a steeply inclined road.

Bong also explores class with the element of movement. Throughout the movie, the members of the Kim family are never seen moving upward. In a pivotal rainstorm scene, the Kim family travel downward through town by steep stairs, tunnels, and side roads with the dangerously rushing water. Their home, which is at one of the lowest points of the town, is flooding and nearly demolished by the elements. To the Park family, this rainstorm was a simple disruption to their camping trip plans; they come back home, walking up the stairs, and enjoy the view of the rain from the warmth and comfort of their spacious and dry home.

Do all people who live below the poverty line smell like public transportation? In the movie, Mr. Park lays on the couch with his wife as they discuss how Ki-taek smells strongly of an odor they correspond to the subway. This discussion takes place with Ki-taek and his two children hiding under a table (below the Park family…) that laid inches away from the couch. While his children are stricken with the anxiety of being caught, Ki-taek is forced to lay in humiliation and indignity in front of his family. The inability of Ki-taek to protect his family from this loss of face is symbolic of the authority and power (or lack thereof) he has over those who are less aware and border-line naive but far wealthier than he is.

When I was given the opportunity to see Parasite, I realized that I have never seen a Korean film in American theatres in all my years of living as a Korean-American. Aside from the fact that this movie was able to explain things for me in a way that resonated with me culturally, I fouAsnd it very empowering to see the work of a Korean director being brought into the light of American pop culture and talent. I have taken the liberty to note particular details I found interesting when I watched this movie, but I highly recommend watching the movie yourself; you’re bound to learn something new with every watch, review, and analysis alike.