“You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan at all.”
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Starring Cho Yeo-jeong, Park So-dam, Choi Woo-shik and Kang-Ho Song
Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best International Feature (2020)
If you have not seen Parasite, start it now. This masterpiece was the first non-English (Korean) film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and for breaking that glass ceiling, it deserves your time.
Parasite follows the Kim family – Ki-taek (Kang-Ho Song), Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), Ki-jung (Park So-dam), and Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) – who are living in a semi basement apartment where they fold pizza-boxes to try to make ends meet. Ki-woo is offered a job to tutor a high school student (Park Da-hye) who is the daughter of a wealthy family, however to do this Ki-woo must pretend to be a university student. After Ki-jung forges her brother’s university transcript, Ki-woo enters the Park family home and a plan is hatched to manipulate and deceive the Park family so that the Kim family can infiltrate as the Park family’s staff, finally making a liveable wage. Everything falls apart when the original housekeeper appears in the middle of a thunderstorm and asks to retrieve something from the basement…
Throughout this film Joon-ho explores the large wealth gaps among the classes in South Korea. The stark comparison of the Kim family home with the Park family home is just the beginning. The Kims live in a tiny semi-basement where they are physically on the bottom of the world. They leave the windows open so they can benefit from the extermination that is happening on the street, regardless of the impacts to their health. Ki-woo is so embarrassed of their living situation they do not want their friends to see it.
“We could have met outside. Why come here?”
They also have to huddle next to the toilet to steal their neighbour’s wifi as they cannot pay for their own, let alone their phone bills. On the other hand, the Park family home is expansive with mostly unused space. The cinematography here is subtly stunning and the difference in space is never directly addressed, but is made hard to ignore. The Park family are on the very top of the world with a luxurious garden where they can bathe in sunlight.
The idea of the Kim family being on the bottom and the Park family being on the top is constantly explored through the use of stairs as the Kim family race up and down the many many staircases to get from their home to the home of the Parks.
The Kims’ home even becomes flooded with sewage during a thunderstorm after which the mother of the Park family is planning a party:
“Today the sky’s so blue and no pollution! Thanks to all the rain yesterday.”
While the poor are literally drowning in sewage, the rich are partying because the sky is so blue.
Immediately outside the Park family home there is no one and nothing that even remotely reassembles the reality of a country where people are living in extreme poverty. You can not even see the power lines. Outside the Kims’ family home you can see the mess of the power lines, a mess created by the many people who need to steal electricity to power their homes. The Kims’ home is even urinated on by the local drunk, indicating to the viewer that the Kims are below even the addicted as at least they can afford alcohol. When the Kims drink in the Parks’ living space they feel spoilt being able to get drunk.
“Getting drunk in the living room… It’s cosy!”
Joon-ho also explores the privileges of the wealthy. It is not just about the cars or the houses, but the ability to be nice.
“Not ‘rich, but still nice’. She’s nice because she is rich. Hell, if i had all this money. I’d be nice, too!”
The Kims do not have this luxury and without the manipulation and deceit of the Park family they would still be starving in their basement home. When the Kims family home is flooding Ki-taek refuses to help their neighbour who is struggling against the sewage to get his belongings out of their house. If he had stopped to the help there may have been nothing left for the Kims the salvage from their home.
Parasite is completely unpredictable and will leave on the edge of your seat with absolutely no idea on how the Kim family is going to get out of this situation, or how they ended up in the situation in the first place. As access to media is becoming easier and storylines becoming repeated as the pressure to create new content increases, this state of insecurity is becoming harder and harder to maintain in an audience and Joon-ho does it extremely well. The foreshadowing is there and I highly recommend a second or third watch to really find all the details that make this film a beautiful piece of cinema.