STRIKING COMEDY, drama, and thriller all at once, South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho hit the international box office with his new compelling masterpiece , Parasite, which depicts the social class division between the wealthy and the poor. Frankly, it’s not your typical “the poor as the underdog” and “the rich as the villain” movie. Bong Joon-ho crafted the film with witty symbolisms you might not notice at first (unless you pay close attention).
Premiered in May 2019 at the Cannes Film Festival, it became the first South Korean film to win the Palme d’Or. Since then, it gained massive attention and bagged four Oscar awards: Best Picture, Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director (for Bong Joon-ho).
Parasite begins with the Kim family living together in their semi-basement home. They raise their phones to search for public Wi-Fi and leave their windows open to benefit from street fumigation. They also make little money by preparing pizza boxes for delivery. In spite of their unemployed status, the Kims are smart and bold.
They seize every opportunity to get by, even more so when the son, Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), gets an unexpected recommendation from his friend Min (Park Seo-joon) to tutor a rich young girl, Park Da-hye (Jung Ji-so). With the proficient forgery skills of his sister Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam), Kim Ki-woo, with fabricated documents, ascends to the wealthy Park family’s household.
Surrounded by manicured lawns where sunlight beams aplenty, this house is as much as Ki-woo would ever dream of. He meets Park Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), a naïve and gullible mother who tends to her daughter and son. Their lifestyle depends on hired personnel, such as a tutor, a cook, a driver, and a housekeeper.
Just as when Park Yeon-kyo seeks for an art therapist for her rowdy son Park Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon), Kim Ki-woo takes the chance to pull in her sister for the role. It’s funny and awkward seeing how the Kims bluff their way towards their desired jobs. Soon enough they successfully replace Park Dong-ik’s (Lee Sun-kyun) former driver with Kim Ki-taek, while Kim Ki-woo’s mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) in place of the former housekeeper, Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun). It’s a dream come true for the Kims until everything goes wrong.
What kept me hooked with Parasite is its emphasis on visual language rather than dialogue through its cinematography, production design, costume design, and direction. Each cinematic tool is used to show a contrast between the two families. At the beginning of the film, we see the Kims’ semi-basement window with the camera panning down, unlike when Ki-woo enters the Parks’ home, the camera pans upward against the bright sunlight. The same goes when Kim Ki-woo leaves their house and works for the Parks. It shows how he ascends to the Parks’ level and so forth as each member of the Kim family gets new jobs.
Writer and director Bong Joon-ho carefully illustrated symbolisms. A very notable example is the strange ornamental rock that Kim Ki-woo’s friend Min gifted to the Kim family. Bong described this as a “very bizarre moment” in the opening scene. It makes sense because, imagine, receiving some kind of collector’s item is unusual for the underprivileged. Kim Ki-woo examines this rock, saying it’s “metaphorical,” symbolizing his clinging hope. Another symbol is the rain in one of the film’s most pivotal scenes. For the privileged, raining causes canceled plans, but for the working class living in informally settled neighborhoods, it means worrying over floods.
Parasite is set apart from other movies by its ability to shift its storyline from a light, comedic mood into a dark and horrific one. It is what other movies tried to achieve, but Parasite nailed it so well. Some say that when you had watched a movie and still think about it after days or weeks have passed, it is indeed a great film.
Parasite is a movie you will want to watch for a second or third time. Because then, you’ll be able to appreciate it more and start to deeply realize what the film truly means.