Legendary movie director and screenwriter Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer, The Host) comes back with another thoughtful and Cannes Film Festival award-winning movie, Parasite (Gisaengchung). The family drama is wrapped with dark comedy that will feed the viewer’s brain with much to think about while the pinch of thriller keeps everyone on the edge throughout the screening.
This review contains spoilers.
The storyline follows the Kim family and their struggle to live a normal life with no outside income. The son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) teaches English to the daughter of the rich Park family and eventually becomes the mastermind behind a plan to find jobs for his whole family at the Parks’ house. Caught up in the glamor of their new life, the Kims end up in an unfortunate incident that turns the life of both families 180 degrees.
Director Bong always incorporates a hidden message in his movies that transcribes to current social or political issues, and Parasite makes no exception. The film starts within the dark and gloomy semi-basement house of the Kim family as they try to connect to the neighbor’s wi-fi. The family is struggling to put food on the table but they seem reconciled with their fate until Ki-woo’s friend, Min (Park Seo-jun) pays them a visit one night and gifts them a landscape stone. Later in the movie, this stone turns out to be the metaphor behind the Kims’ life.
The contrast strikes when the cinematography changes to the big, wide and bright home of the Parks. Their life seems so perfect on the outside but the naivety with which they trust the Kims uncovers the deep web of secrets and lies that the family has knitted. It shows that rich people might be happy but they can be oblivious to the rest of the world, which clouds their judgment. It’s funny how proud they are from the drawing of their son that they don’t even realize what actually stands behind the “self-portrait” that hangs on the wall along with their most valuable things. Ki-woo is smart to use that fact and his whole family starts to leech onto the kindness of Park Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-jeong) and Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun).
One night, the Parks family go camping and the Kims move into their house to taste the luxury of carefree living themselves.The scene where the family is all over the place in the Parks’ living room might show you just how money and luxe change a person’s view on life; suddenly, drinking tons of expensive alcohol is not a waste at all but a “deserved treat.”
“Yeon-kyo is nice because she is rich.” – Kim Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin)
The question you might ask yourself while watching this scene is whether poverty makes people evil. That might not be true for everyone, but poverty can make people greedy and from this same dark and stormy scene in the usually-bright Parks home, we can sense that something bad is about to happen. The first big plot twist comes when the previous housekeeper of the rich family rings the bell. You wouldn’t expect her to be there, especially in the condition of a homeless person. She is poor and miserable, and over the years of serving the Parks, she has her own deep secrets that finally come out. When she doesn’t receive the help and understanding she hoped for from the Kims, her own greed turns her into a revengeful monster.
From this point on, Parasite resembles the gruesome fate of the characters in the movie Us, directed by Jordan Peele. A chain of unexpected events lead to the end no one expected and you are left staring at the credits with a lot of questions in your head. The long take of the brutal birthday party enables viewers to explore the emotions of every character; and even though Bong Joon-ho barely uses music throughout the movie, in pivotal moments like this one, the classical instruments come into play to enhance the dramatism of the events.
In the scene where Ki-woo writes the letter to his father, we can finally see that he gets rid of the stone that “kept following him.” This stone can be seen as a resemblance of the poverty the Kims have grown up with and the weight that it carries. As hard as they try, even in the end, they go back to their semi-basement house. But we see that Ki-woo returns the stone to a river stream which can be interpreted as his will to start all over again with his new plan, this time earning his money with honesty and hard work instead of building a fortune over someone else’s success and money.
As for the Parks, it would have been nice to see what their life has turned into after all this. What we learn is that even the best life can turn out to be the worst nightmare. Throughout the movie, Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) keeps asking Dong-ik whether he loves his wife and maybe the fact that we don’t ever get an answer to this question can leave room to doubt who the truly happy and wholesome family was—the Kims or the Parks?
Cover Image: Parasite
Written by Monica Boyadzhieva