Parasite won the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. And it won a stack of awards at the Academy Awards. Best Picture. Best Director. Best Screenplay. In other words it was a critical and a box-office success. It made money.
This is a film about money and class. But when we talk about theme we sometimes get lost and wander away from the main purpose of a film (and often a book) which is entertainment. I hooted with laughter and had those moments when I cringed. In other words, I was hooked and wanted to see what happened next.
As working class I identified with the Kim family. Being bottom of the pile isn’t some metaphorical concern for the Kim family. They live in a sub-basement in South Korea. Most of us don’t really know what that is. It’s below ground. But not in that fancy way the rich in some parts of Kensington, London, for example, are burrowing to create carparks and swimming pools and tennis courts that are carefully modulated by air filters and heating. Below ground in the way domiciled servants used to live, hidden away from the main house. The highest part of the Kim family home is the toilet pan. Park So-dam as Kim Ki-jung (Jessica) and her brother Choi Woo-shik as Kim Ki-woo (Kevin) scramble up on the toilet pan to try and—fail—to get a signal for their phones, at below pavement level. Song Kang-ho as Kim Ki-taek (Mr Kim) and his wife Ang Hye-jin as Chung-sook are watching a video on their phone about how to fold and pack takeaway boxes. While the woman onscreen makes it look easy. They have less success. But with all the family helping, they figure they’ll make enough money to eat. A drunken man comes and pees against the bins above them and against their ‘window’. The Kim family are below shit level and being peed upon.
The metaphorical becomes played out in the film’s denouement to great effect. Shit travels downward.
Meanwhile, Lee Sun-kyun as Park Dong-ik (Nathan) father of the Pak family and business executive lives on the top of a steep hill. He has all the markers of wealth. But he has inherited the live-in housekeeper of Namgoong, the architect and previous owner of the house. The housekeeper, Lee Jung-eun as Gook Moon-gwang is competent and suitably deferential. Park Dong-ik tells his wife Cho Yeo-jeong as Choi Yeon-gyo there’s a line between being deferential and being over-familiar that he would never allow his employees to cross. He’s the boss and they should know their place. Choi Yeon-gyo certainly does. She knows her husband is in charge. But with her housekeeper, she’s in charge of domestic matters and taking care of their son and daughter. Jung Ji-so as Park Da-hye is also a deferential daughter, with a closeted and controlled life. Jung Hyeon-jun as Park Da-song is the spoiled baby of the family, with an obsession with North American Indians.
There is grass outside to set up a tent and trees. There is also a bunker room built below the house big enough to contain the basement housing and street the Kim family are crammed into.
The two families mirror each other, but the distance between them is so vast that it would easier to travel from North Korea to South Korea.
How the Kim family gets inside the walls and protectorate of wealth is beautifully worked and quite simple. They fake it. And as an audience we want the plucky Kim family to succeed.
Kim Ki-woo makes the first breach in the wall. He is recommended to the family by Park Seo-joon as Min-hyuk, a friend, and Da-hye’s English tutor, who is going to study abroad. His sister helps him to Photoshop some suitable accretions. He poses as a Yonsei University student, and is hired as a replacement English tutor, and dubbed ‘Kevin’ by the Park family after Choi Yeon-gyo sit in on their first lesson.
His sister follows the same route. When ‘Kevin’ overhears Choi Yeon-gyo speaking about being unable to get a suitable art therapist for her genius of a son, he respectively suggests that he might know. Kim Ki-jung (Jessica) ‘an art student of Illinois State University’ might be free, but she’d need to come and interview them.
With the Kim brother and sister inside the house they have more leverage, and find ways to oust the chauffer and housekeeper and replace them with their dad and mum. The Kim family have gone from being unemployed and unable to pay their phone bills or eat to being in full employment at rates of pay they could only imagine. A new equilibrium has been reached, but everybody is faking it.
So far so good, becomes so far so bad, when the Pak family go on a suitably high-class camping holiday. Gook Moon-gwang buzzes the door just when the Kim family are relaxing in their new ‘home’, spilling drinks, smashing glasses and behaving uproariously. The old housekeeper asks to get in claiming she’s left something in the basement she has to pick up. She knows the master and mistress are away, but claims it won’t take her long. Letting her into the house changes everything again.
Appearances need to be kept up, when Choi Yeon-gyo phones home and tells the new housekeeper that the camping trip has been a wash out and there’ll be there in eight minutes, and demands a cooked meal, the clock is ticking.
Drama and comedy combine. Every scene adds to and fits in the other like a Babushka doll. There is no one denouement, but a series of denouements. Superbly crafted and a joy to watch. The question remains who are the parasites and for what reason? Discuss.