Directed by Bong Joon-ho.
Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun, Jang Hyae-jin.
A poor family, the Kims, con their way into becoming the servants of a rich family, the Parks. But their easy life gets complicated when their deception is threatened with exposure.
Not only was Parasite’s big night at the Oscars a watershed moment for the historically white bread Academy, but it served as a wake-up call that, yes, Best Picture nominees don’t have to be big, loud box office hits. Of course, that’s been the trend in recent years, with Best Picture winners not necessarily topping the box office charts, but Parasite has shown that even a foreign language film has a chance to cut through the noise and emerge triumphant.
I’ll admit I wasn’t familiar with director Bong Joon-ho until now, but I found his story of class divisions both grotesque and beautiful, a tale that can apply to just about any country. Living in the United States, I encounter people who occupy different parts of the socioeconomic strata on a regular basis, and I’ve found that many of Parasite’s themes apply here too.
The protagonists here are the Kim family, two parents, a son, and a daughter who live in squalor in a poor part of Seoul, South Korea. (I don’t recall the city being named, but it’s not hard to imagine that it’s Seoul.) They struggle to survive on small bits of income from menial jobs, and they have to deal with difficulties such as losing Wi-Fi access because a neighbor changed their password. Their below-street-level apartment is small and cramped, and they have a toilet on a shelf by the window.
They seem happy, though, and they have a “We’re in this together” mentality, rather than squabbling among each other. One day, their situation changes when the son, Ki-woo, gets the opportunity to tutor Da-hye, the daughter of the wealthy Park family. The Park home is the 180-degree opposite of the Kims’ apartment, with austere furnishings and all the comforts the two children could ever ask for. The wife, however, drinks heavily and complains about everything, and the husband is haughty and makes it clear that anyone hired to assist in his household is only that: the hired help.
When Ki-woo gets a foothold in the Park household, his sister, Ki-jeong, sees an opportunity to do art therapy for Da-hye’s little brother, who is struggling with the aftermath of some kind of trauma. She doesn’t really know anything about art therapy, but she manages to bullshit the boy’s mother into believing that she knows what she’s talking about. And key to her scheme is pretending that she doesn’t know Ki-woo.
The Kim parents then see their chance to also infiltrate the household and get some steady income, with the father replacing the Parks’ driver and the mother supplanting their housekeeper. They also pretend to not know the other members of their family, so as not to draw the Parks’ suspicion. However, they eventually uncover a dark secret in the Park home, and the Kims’ scheme is threatened.
While the film’s title might suggest that the dark secret involves some kind of monster, keep in mind that Bong Joon-ho’s story is steeped in metaphor. The dark comedy of the first act gives way to a nail-biting thriller in acts two and three, with the story careening toward a tragic conclusion that leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.
I appreciate any movie that eschews wrapping up the story with a tidy bow, and that’s what Bong does here. It’s not clear that we should see the Kims as virtuous underdogs and the Parks as snooty upper class types who deserve to be taken down. Both families have flaws and strengths uncovered by the end of the film, and it’s up to the viewer to take away from it what they want.
Unfortunately, this Blu-ray release has sparse extras, probably because Universal didn’t expect the film to make such a splash at the Oscars. Hopefully a more robust home video edition is in the works, but in the meantime, you have a high-def version of the movie, along with a code for a digital copy.
In addition to two trailers, this Blu-ray features a 19-minute post-screening Q&A with Bong from Fantastic Fest 2019 in Austin, Texas. He takes some questions from a moderator before opening up the chat to the audience. Bong discusses many of the symbolic choices he made in the film, as well as his own personal experiences that fed into the screenplay. It’s a good, albeit too short, discussion. I hope he gets a chance to do some longer interviews, along with a commentary track, for a future release.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★