기생충 (Parasite – 2019)
written by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won
from a story by Bong Joon-ho
directed by Bong Joon-ho
The first hour of 기생충 (English title: Parasite), the latest film from South Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho, introduces us to two families on opposite ends of the class divide. The Kims – father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) – are poor and living in a small basement, relying on small jobs to survive. The Parks – father Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun), mother Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), son Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun), and daughter Da-hye (Jung Ji-so) – are wealthy and comfortable, their luxurious residence, chauffered cars, and themed birthday gatherings clear symbols of their status.
But one day, the Kims get a stroke of luck: Ki-woo fakes his way into becoming Da-hye’s English tutor, effectively gaining access to the Parks’ home. He then recommends Ki-jung to become Da-song’s art teacher… who then figures out how to get rid of the family driver so the job goes to Ki-taek… who then helps get housekeeper Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) sacked so Chung-sook is hired. Soon the Kims have insinuated themselves as de facto servants for the Parks, a stratagem that allows the family to bask in the glow of a world unbeknownst to them.
The first hour of Parasite unfurls like a darkly comic thriller in which Joon-ho deftly manipulates audience sympathy so that neither the Kims or the Parks are wholly likable or dislikable. Instead, they are merely two sides of the same coin, one using the other in mutually beneficial ways. Will the Kims get caught? Will Ki-woo and Da-hye fall in love? Will either side learn something useful – or perhaps even grow to respect – each other? There are no easy answers, and indeed, the movie’s title refers to both sets of parasites.
But in the second hour, Joon-ho goes overboard, adding a twist in which Gook Moon-gwang returns to the house looking for something… and that something is revealed to be her husband Geun-sae (Park Myung-hoon), who’s been hiding for years in a bunker under the kitchen. At this point, Parasite becomes a different movie altogether, a sort of quasi-slasher horror flick that ends with characters getting bludgeoned, stabbed, and even killed by barbecue skewer. Man, those Parks really know how to throw a party.
It’s a jarring balancing act that doesn’t quite come together, yet you have to give it up to Joon-ho for trying such a crazy mix of suspense and social commentary. The film ends with Ki-taek replacing Geun-sae as the captive man in the bunker, while Ki-woo daydreams about the day he’ll be rich enough to buy the mansion and reunite with his dad. In Parasite, both the Kims’ basement and the Parks’ mansion are much more than mere living spaces, but prisons for their (and our) respective classes. The world keeps on turning in the same axis of inequality, those who have and those who don’t forever wanting more…. and we can’t break free.
Carlos I. Cuevas