Who Lives Off Whom? : A Review of Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite


Sara Michael ’23

Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of me and my cousins playing a Nancy Drew video game in the basement on their 2004 Macintosh computer. As my cousins clacked on the keyboard, navigating Nancy Drew through winding tunnels and castle staircases, I felt my heart thumping through my itchy pink sweater, my eyes wide in anticipation. I knew peril was lurching, but I didn’t know just how it would make its entrance. Watching South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s Palme d’Or winning film “Parasite” conjured up the same sweaty-palm, fearful-yet-too-curious-to-shut-my-eyes feeling.

The film centers around the Kims and the Parks, two families who lead strikingly different lives. The Kims — father, Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-Ho), mother, Chung- sook (Jang Hye-Jin), daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), and son Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-shik) live in a grungy, stink-bug infested semi-basement on the margins of society. Destitute and desperate, Chung-sook accepts his friend’s job as an English tutor for a high-school girl, while he is studying abroad. The high-school girl, Park Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), lives with her family— the Parks — in a modernist mansion, which is where these families’ worlds collide and where all the drama disentangles. Her mother, Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) hires Ki-Woo immediately. Then, Ki-Woo recommends his sister, passing her off as a friend of friend, as the Park’s young son’s art teacher.

After Ki-Woo subtly plants evidence that gets the Parks to fire their old chauffeur and housekeeper, they hire Mr. and Mrs. Kim, and, suddenly, both families— one toiling away in labor and the other loafing off of it— wind up under the same roof.

The Kims balance precariously on the threshold of their new careers, recognizing how expendable they are because the Kim’s have the resources to hire and fire without thinking twice. As the movie hurdles forward, the vibrato of tension and anticipation heightens, and the audience is left wondering what is going to happen next.

The first half of the film, chock full of dark humor, meticulously sets up the shock that comes later, pushing the audience to consider why we were initially so entertained.The film ends with stabwounds, bloodshed, death from both families, but at the end, the Kims are the ones carrying the heavy burden of loss. Although I anticipated some narrative downfall, I never could’ve predicted whose downfall would play out.

At the core, the movie is about crawling up and down the social staircase. “Parasite” is a metaphorical tight- rope walk between lack and excess, while never explicitly calling attention to its methods of craft. Joon-Ho sets excess and impoverishment at odds with each other, spotlighting the noxious nature of capitalism in everyday life.

It’s a film that documents the underclass bubbling up from where they were hidden deep underground, and it makes you wonder who the true parasite is. Who is living off of whom?

Image Credit: Den of Geek

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