Warning: This is a movie commentary, loaded with spoilers. If you have not seen it, I suggest you do so first.
Any time a movie wins the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture, it’s going to pique my interest. Naturally, it found its way onto my “Movies To Watch” list at Priority Level III (the highest). Strangely enough, I’d never seen any trailers or heard any discussion about it, so I went in with an open mind and absolutely zero knowledge of the content, even the genre. And for that I’m glad, because I was pleasantly surprised.
Parasite is a 2019 South Korean dark comedy (the LAST thing I expected – I love dark comedies) written by Bong Joon-ho. It is a tale of greed, deception, envy, and apathy & prejudice in the form of Classism.
It’s the story of the Kims, a low-income family residing in a small, semi-basement apartment. The group consists of father Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, daughter Ki-jung and son Ki-woo. At the recommendation of Ki-woo’s friend Min-hyuk, Ki-woo replaces him as the English tutor for the Park family, a well-to-do family who relies heavily on the service of their driver and housekeeper for basic day-to-day functionality. Seizing an opportunity, the Kim family masterfully crafts and executes a plan to discredit and replace both long-time servants while adding the final family member, Ki-jung as an art therapist for the Park’s son, Da-song. All posing as experts in their respective fields.
The Kims successfully ingratiate themselves with the Parks, who trust them implicitly. However, trust and harmony, built on lies and deception, soon become threatened as the Kim family makes a discovery that threatens all they’ve worked to build.
On a budget of only $11 million, this sleeper hit raked in over $260 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing South Korean film in history.
Warning: Here Be Spoilers
Nothing like a good, old-fashioned comedy that surprisingly evolves into black humor, laced with suspense and intrigue. As an added bonus, this feature plays out in “Jordan Peele-esque” fashion, with eerily foreboding moments (like the peach allergy confession and the “bad smell” discussion), teasing metaphors, startling revelations and a genuine WTF “blood & guts” climax.
What stands out to me is the use of the stairs and the “sea level” locations of the Kims and Geun-sae (former housekeeper Moon-gwang’s husband) who lives beneath the wealthy Park family in an underground bunker, unknown by its owners. For each underprivileged family unit, the two basements are symbolic representations of lower-living, with the Kims constantly looking up at the real world through their ground-level window and Geun-sae relying on food from above for survival (sometimes coming up and out, himself – once, with disastrous results). The two lifestyles of the needy families vs the posh existence of the Parks speaks to the socioeconomic differences in the world today. The stairs strengthen this metaphor as the bridge between the two. By that, I mean that the two groups engaged in the facade have to transcend to a higher level, just to enjoy a better way of life. Not once do you see the Parks descending to theirs. The Park family, being completely oblivious to the stairs (that lead to the lower level), represent the whole of those born rich who have never known the daily struggles of the needy.
Now, let me break down some (of my) defining events in the film.
Funniest Moment: The story behind the Park family’s son Da-song and his conditioned fear of the house “ghost”. When it was revealed that this vision was actually the partially emerged head of Geun-sae, I swear I almost popped a blood vessel in my eye from laughing!
Kudos for thinking that up and working it into the script. It was just as funny when Geun-sae appeared again before Da-song, during the chaos of his vengeful stabbing spree at the birthday party.
I’d be worried that I’m going to hell for laughing, but since it’s fiction, I’m sure I’ll get a pass (although I’ve done enough before now to lock my spot anyway – so I’m laughing without remorse at EVERYTHING).
Explainable Moment: Someone told me they felt that the Kim’s father, Ki-taek did not have to stab Mr. Parks. If you think about it, this was an expert example of the frustrations of society’s lower class, bubbling over because of its position and how they’re viewed/judged by the “upper crust”. During their travel time together, Ki-taek became increasingly agitated at Mr. Parks’ blatant disdain for lower-class citizens in conjunction with his own frustrations (being a failure as a father and family support system). You could see it in his face:
- as he hid under the table, listening to the Parks at night,
- during the car conversation about “smelly people”,
- when their son Da-song, mentioned that all of the hired help “smells the same”,
- as they sat in the monsoon-flooded apartment, and
- when Mr. Parks told him that since he’s been hired to work during his “off” day, that all tasks are inclusive and mandatory, even at the expense of Ki-taek’s dignity.
Being told to abandon the wounded art therapist (who was actually his daughter, Da-hye) and drive the Parks to the hospital, then seeing Mr. Park cover his nose in response to Geun-sae’s pungent odors, well, you probably would have stabbed him too. I know I would have. But hey, my soul’s already in jeopardy, remember?
And there is another thought. The Park family had absolutely NO qualms about summoning each member of the Kim family to the party on their day off. Not one truly cared about the inconvenience. It was a “stop what you’re doing” kinda thing.
Hidden Message: Just as Mr. Park wonders how Geun-sae recognizes him in the film’s climax, Geun-sae screams, “RESPECT!” To me, this is the underlying theme and cry of the people who are “stepped” over and looked down upon by society’s privileged. They simply ask to be acknowledged and respected.
Hidden “Reference”: I also love how the movie touches on the use of “personal references” to get what you want and where you need to be in life. Each position obtained by the Kims was acquired via recommendation. The only exception being the placement of their mother, who the Park mother contacted from a fake business card. But even then, it was at the suggestion of their new driver, “Papa” Kim. I just find it interesting that for each household position to be so critical to the Park’s way of life, very little was done in checking the background of their prospective employees and with no “shopping around” conducted, so to speak. This is often the case in business, where people use nepotism as a means of advancement in the working world.
Ending: As is the tradition in a true dark comedy, there is no clear winner in this tale. The Park family suffers the loss of their father, possible psychological regression by their son after another “ghost” sighting (I’m literally laughing, again – I know, Hellfire!)
…mistrust of the “service” system and relocation to escape the horrible memories associated with their beautiful home and the tragedy. It’s likely that this would have been a financial decision as well, depending on the family’s worth and loss of long term sustainable income after the father died.
Moon-gwang succumbed to her injuries and her husband was killed by Chung-sook in retaliation for fatally stabbing her daughter.
The Kims must continue life, exposed to the public as charlatans, with the mother and son (who sustained a traumatic head injury from Geun-sae during his escape to the party above) on probation for forgery, trespassing, foul play and other unmentioned crimes.
There is additional irony in the fact that the Scholar’s Rock, which promises wealth, was the instrument of blunt force trauma, causing mild brain damage, possibly impeding Ki-woo’s ability to function at full-capacity, ever again. And did you notice that the rock’s existence, which was a pivotal point in the climax, was gifted by the boy who introduced the Kims to the Parks in the first place?
And of course there’s dear-old dad, who has now replaced Geun-sae as the new “troll under the bridge”. Geun-sae kept in hiding to evade loan sharks, hell-bent on “stabbing” him. Now Ki-taek will likely spend the rest of his life in the same place, hiding from the law for the crime of murder.
And then there’s that, his son’s “plan” to get him out at the end. It’s clear that Ki-woo will never raise enough money to rescue him, which supports his father’s warning and life-lesson to “never make plans” because they always fail. In this case, his words would prove prophetic and precise.
(Possible) Plothole: I did have a problem with his son discovering his father’s whereabouts and fate via Morse Code. Not that it couldn’t happen, but the length of data he’d have to collect to decipher his father’s full explanation (as narrated at the end) would take an immeasurably long time and his father would have to have written his message out in its entirety before translating it against the chart. By the time his son realized that the blinking of the light was indeed Morse Code, he would have been deep into the message. Then he would need to wait to read it again and throughout, just to figure out the beginning and the end. Great solution, but not entirely believable (no points taken though – the movie was too good). I WILL however take a point because Mr. Park was so lazy and disconnected that he couldn’t see that the blinking light (used as an “SOS” to his son in the tent) is NOT a result of faulty wiring. Even if he couldn’t figure it out, why in the hell did he not look into an electrician? And why didn’t his Da-song say anything once he decoded it in the tent?
Which also brings me to the pink elephant in the room. The Pseudo-Sex Scene (more like foreplay). I have to laugh before beginning this segment. That was easily the most uncomfortable sex scene to watch in recent movie history. But I think that’s what the director intended, primarily because the Kims had all but “invaded” the Parks’ home, which led to their suffering through the private moment. Between the perfectly composed music of the moment and their awkward position on the couch and hand placement, I think it served its purpose. Anyone who has ever attempted to have sex with children in the house can easily empathize with these two trying to enjoy spontaneous sexual gratification while monitoring their child in the distance, hoping to not be discovered. I can’t lie though, I found Mrs. Park to be subtly sexy and would have done the same (oh HUSH).
Finally, this movie succeeds in leaving you with an Alternate Thought: Despite the Kim family’s obvious “parasitic” activities (hence the title), one can’t help but wonder if the true parasites aren’t the Parks. You would think that, enjoying a life of prosperity such a family would never have a need or concern in the world. Ironically, their financial/social status serves as their enabler, creating an environment lacking in knowledge and basic household skills. It is they, who depend heavily on the Kims and their servants before them, in just about all walks of life. So, as I began, “Who is the true Parasite?”
Let’s call it a draw, with a perfectly appropriate title.
This movie hosts a cast of great actors, in addition to a strategically-shadowing score, superb direction and a creepily funny story that fully immerses you from pizza box assembly to the son’s fantasy of his father’s freedom in the conclusion.
I definitely give it two thumbs up for being such a peach…
I hope you enjoyed my critique and remember, my word is not the gospel. Still, I’d be interested to know what you thought about the movie and what I had to say about it. Feel free to leave a comment below and don’t forget to sign up at the bottom for email notification of future posts.