Parasite Film Review: Bong Joon-ho Shares Class Struggle in Seoul

Enjoying its Canadian premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Parasite is the latest genre-bending thriller from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho.

The Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or–winning thriller offers an edge-of-your-seat tale of class struggle in the poorest and wealthiest neighbourhoods of Seoul. The sold-out Korean film at TIFF 2019 went on to become one of the runners up for the Groslch Peoples Choice Award.

Critics are saying Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is one of the best films of 2019. The award-winning Korean filmmaker has an enthusiastic global fanbase, thanks to his past projects The Host, Snowpiercer and Okja.

Parasite Film: A poor family in Seoul act as con artists by swindling a wealthy family.
Parasite Film: A poor family in Seoul act as con artists by swindling a wealthy family.

Parasite Film Review

Parasite is a Korean language film best described as a tragicomedy. It depicts the inevitable collision that ensues when Ki-woo, the eldest son in a family of four unemployed adults, is introduced into the wealthy Park family for a well-paid tutoring job.

Parasite begins as the poor family of four sit huddled in their cramped kitchen in a Seoul slum. The two millennial kids get flustered as the WIFI they’ve been stealing from a neighbour is now being protected by a password. They wave their cell phones high into the air throughout the dingy basement apartment in hopes of receiving a signal. The family celebrates once they’re finally able to steal a new signal, although it’s hilariously only available when seated on a dingy toilet.

The mother immediately checks her Whatsapp messages and discovers the family has been given a freelance job, folding cardboard boxes for a local pizza restaurant. After the family rushes to pile pizza boxes in their cramped apartment, Ki-woo’s friend drops by with a lucky stone. He encourages Ki-woo to apply as a private Korean teacher to a wealthy family in Seoul.

Ki-woo tasks his twenty-something year old sister Ki-jung to forge a university document falsely declaring he has a degree. When the patriarch of the family Ki-taek discovers his son’s attempt to lie to get the job, he celebrates his ingenuity rather than scolding him like most fathers would.

Parasite cast and crew Q&A at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Bong Joon-ho’s intimate introduction to the film Parasite sets the scene for how the characters motives will play out. The audience has witnessed their desperate living conditions and are humorously introduced to a loving family that will clearly do whatever they need to better their circumstances.

Once Ki-woo successfully cons the wealthy Korean family into hiring him to tutor their daughter, he soon gets his sister a job as a fancy art therapists for their ADHD energetic son. She claims to be a graduate of a prestigious university in Chicago, and emotionally manipulates the mother into paying her a higher fee by claiming her son may have signs of psychophonia.

Days later Ki-jung plots to have the Parks private driver fired by leaving her panties in the back seat, suggesting her father for the conveniently vacant position. Soon enough the mother, Chung-sook finds herself playing housekeeper. They get her the job via a deviant scheme, spreading rumours to the wealthy wife that their current nanny has TB. The father, son and daughter go as far as dusting the oblivious housekeeper with the fuzzy skin of a peach, aware that she is dangerously allergic to stone fruit. Once the four family members have successfully completed their cons, they slowly begin to infest their newfound nest.

Described by Bong Joon-ho himself as “a comedy without clowns and a tragedy without villains,” the Parasite film is both hilarious and haunting. It offers a unique perspective showcasing how two social classes in the same city can be oblivious to their neighbours struggle.

A wealthy couple in Seoul are victims of poor con artists in the Parasite film.
A wealthy couple in Seoul are victims of poor con artists in the Parasite film.

Bong Joon-ho Describes His Film Parasite

“At first, everyone expected that Parasite would be a creature movie or Sci Fi film. Even more so because the title forms a connection with my previous film, The Host. This film’s protagonists are family members living in the real world. There are people who hope to live with others in a co-existent or symbiotic relationship, but that doesn’t work out, so they are pushed into a parasitic relationship. I think of it as a tragicomedy that depicts the humour, horror and sadness that arise when you want to live a prosperous life together, but then you run up against the reality of just how difficult that can be,” says the South Korean director.

Bong Joon-ho discusses the families at the centre of Parasite’s plot, “They are a lower-class family living in a squalid semi-basement flat who just hope for an ordinary life, not anything special – but even that proves hard to achieve. The father has accumulated numerous business failures, the mother who trained as an athlete has never found particular success, and the son and daughter have failed the university entrance exam on multiple occasions. In contrast the family of Mr. Park, who works as the CEO of an IT firm is a competent, newly rich family. Mr. Park is something of a workaholic. There is his beautiful young wife, and his cute high school aged daughter and young son. They can be seen as an ideal four-member family among the modern urban elite.”

Bong Joon-ho goes on to discuss how the Parasite film projects an image of contemporary society, “I think that one way to portray the continuing polarization and inequality of our society is as a sad comedy. We are living in an era when capitalism is the reigning order, and we have no other alternative. It’s not just in Korea, but the entire world faces a situation where the tenets of capitalism cannot be ignored. In the real world, the paths of families like our four unemployed protagonists and the Park family are unlikely ever to cross. The only instance is in matters of employment between classes, as when someone is hired as a tutor or a domestic worker. In such cases there are moments when the two classes come into close enough proximity to feel each other’s breath.”

Bong Joon-ho adds, “In this film, even though there is no malevolent intent on either side, the two classes are pulled into a situation where the slightest slip can lead to fissures and eruptions. In today’s capitalistic society there are ranks and castes that are invisible to the eye. We keep them disguised and out of sight, and superficially look down on class hierarchies as a relic of the past, but the reality is that there are class lines that cannot be crossed. I think that this film depicts the inevitable cracks that appear when two classes brush up against each other in today’s increasingly polarized society.”

Parasite Film: A brother and sister in Seoul con a rich family in an attempt to get out of poverty.
Parasite Film: A brother and sister in Seoul con a rich family in an attempt to get out of poverty.

Two Classes in Korea Collide

Shortly after the family of con artists have secured jobs at the Parks luxurious home things start to go wrong. The ease at which the family hoodwink the Parks is initially full of humour, but for smart cinephiles it acts as a cautionary foreshadowing.

The Parasite plot takes a hair-raising turn when the Parks pack up the car for a camping holiday to celebrate their sons birthday. As soon as the Parks hit the road a thunderstorm hangs overhead, providing an anxiety-driven mood. As thunder booms through the Korean mansion, the family huddle around a coffee table, quickly getting drunk as they plunder the Parks expensive Scotch whisky collection.

The family jumps in unison when the security camera rings. The Parks recently fired housekeeper is standing in the pouring rain claiming she left in such a haste that she left her personal belongings in the basement. The father, son and daughter hide in the house as the Parks former nanny marches downstairs, soaking the kitchen floors.

The Parasite film’s plot from that point on takes several nail-biting turns. Audiences ride a rollercoaster of shock and awe as they discover a secret door located behind a cupboard filled with fermented vegetables, a parade of glass jars stuffed with Korean kimchi. The hidden door leads to a secret underground bunker where the former housekeeper has been hiding her husband.

Bong Joon-Ho Reveals Where He Got the Idea for Parasite.

One immediately wonders if the con artists will have empathy for the downtrodden couple or be wiling to fight to the death to maintain their position of power. Bong Joon-ho essentially asks, “can two of societies parasites live harmoniously together?” The answer? Absolutely not.

After a surprising scuffle in the secret basement the family rush upstairs when a phone in the kitchen rings. The audience gasps as they hear an exhausted Mrs. Park announce the rain was so bad they’ve had to cancel their camping trip. The Parks are apparently arriving back to the house house in 8 minutes, eager to warm up over a bowl of steaming ramen.

Once the phone slams back down the family bolts in every direction. The Parks are arriving in mere moments. The living room is totally trashed, littered with empty booze bottles. And a gagged couple are stowed away in the basement below.

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A family of poor con artists scheme to enter a wealthy household's employ in this genre-bending, Palme d'Or–winning thriller of class struggle from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho.

Date Created: October 25, 2019

Runtime: 131 min

  • Genre:
  • Thriller
  • Producers:
  • Kwak Sin-ae,
  • Moon Yang-kwon,
  • Director:
  • Bong Joon-ho
  • Writers:
  • Cast:
  • Song Kang-ho ,
  • Lee Sun-kyun,
  • Cho Yeo-jeong,
  • Choi Woo-shik,
  • Park So-dam,
  • Lee Jung-eun,
  • Chang Hyae-jin,
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