The Kim family is poor, without jobs, and mooching off of free wi-fi at the beginning of Bong Joon-ho’s South Korean black comedy thriller Parasite.
It’s not that the Kim family isn’t gifted. Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) is a former driver, his wife Choong Sook (Jang Hye-jin) specializes in housekeeping, his daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) is blessed with artistic talent, and his son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) knows English well enough to tutor the subject. The Kims are simply waiting for the right opportunity while living like cockroaches (but don’t let Ki-taek hear you compare him to that specific insect).
Their lives take a turn for the better when Ki-woo’s friend Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon) asks Ki-woo to take his place as an English tutor to Park Da-hye (Jung Ji-so); a high school sophomore that is also the daughter of the luxurious Park family.
Ki-woo is able to weasel his way into the tutoring position and eventually spreads the wealth to the rest of his family by acquiring interviews for them all by Da-hye’s mother Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) and, in Ki-taek’s case, Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun).
But the Kims take their newfound prosperity for granted as their underhanded tactics catch up with them far sooner than they expected.
It’s incredibly fascinating analyzing how Bong Joon-ho chooses to represent the lower to middle class social group the Kim family resides in and the upper class the Parks effortlessly tower over them in.
The Kims live in this congested slum of a neighborhood with a plethora of crisscrossing power lines blocking their view of the sky and neighbors in every direction. The Kims also reside in a dilapidated basement-apartment overrun with stink bugs and attempt to live off of folding pizza boxes from a nearby pizza place while getting “free fumigation” by leaving their windows open when city workers spray for bugs.
The basement aspect of their apartment is intriguing because the Kims not only yell at and throw water on drunks who urinate near their domicile, but they’re also always looking up at the rest of the world judging it and wishing for something better.
Meanwhile the Parks live in this cavernous house by a famous architect, have a housekeeper named Moon-kwang (Lee Jung Eun) who has been there forever that attends to their every need, have tutors for both of their children and a driver, and are basically secluded from the rest of the world on their own little hideaway of luxury.
After the Kims are hired by the Parks, Mr. Park consistently complains about how Ki-taek smells. The basement the Kims live in has a specific smell that is apparently found on those who are financially deficient. The smell is also compared to an old radish, boiling a rag, and riding the subway; all things nobody would want to be acquainted with.
There’s a moment in the film, and you’ll know it once you see it, where Parasite reveals that it’s more than just another foreign film that is well-written with stellar performances (because those are just awful, right?). The Kims deception of the Parks almost feels like a dramatic heist with a “big risk, greater reward” kind of mentality, but Parasite also dabbles in dark humor with some laugh out loud moments that are hysterical.
While there’s no arguing that the Kims aren’t exactly upstanding citizens or your typical protagonists, you still end up investing in them because this is their story. While what they’re doing is morally and reprehensibly wrong, you’re also overwhelmed at the thought of two specific things; distressed at the thought of them getting caught and giddy at it possibly backfiring.
What you may not expect is that Parasite executes tension surprisingly well and even lets the audience feel the fear and anxiousness that the characters on screen are likely going through while sneaking around in the shadows or hiding under a living room sofa.
The entire film is this brilliant and masterful manipulation of the Park family. In a way, you feel like they’ve stopped caring about certain things because they’re wealthy so they’re easier to take advantage of. But the Kims either haven’t tasted something that extravagant in ages or perhaps ever because their gluttonous behavior is essentially their downfall.
The performances from the cast, especially the entire Kim family, are similar to the head games they play; intricate but sculpted like a devious glass house. Seeing them rehearse and come up with a plan that evolves from something that is thrown together on a whim to the entire family’s lifeline that they follow religiously is a wondrous journey.
Bong Joon-ho’s exploration of what happens when things don’t go according to plan is also incredible. Ki-taek’s speech about, “No plan at all never fails,” is particularly compelling.
Parasite allows the audience to experience what it’s like to have nothing and then everything and then nothing from the perspective of two different social groups. The film is basically a South Korean twist on The Prince and The Pauper with a devilish reworking to illustrate how ruthless and desperate each side of the coin can be; the poor doing whatever it takes to grab that brass ring and the rich stopping at nothing to protect what they view as rightfully theirs.
It should absolutely be considered as one of Bong Joon-ho’s most satisfying cinematic efforts and one of the year’s very best films. Parasite is deliciously mischievous and a masterwork of pure and utter deceit with a mesmerizing conclusion that leaves you breathless and reflective.
- The cast is perfect.
- Screenplay is sharp, funny, and riveting.
- The ending deserves to be talked about.
- May not be quite as good on repeat viewings.