Parasite is a South Korean take on class war, writes Ankita Mukherjee
A parasite is an organism that lives off the body of another species and either maintains a symbiotic relationship with the host or ultimately kills it and moves on to another. In director Bong Joon-ho’s Academy Award-winning film Parasite, a poor family from a slum inveigle their way into working as servants for one of the richest families in town. Like proverbial parasites, they worm their way into their employers’ good books and into their home. But Bong’s curious tale leaves one guessing as to who the real parasites are.
The movie’s opening and closing shots show socks hung up to dry, signifying a full circle and suggesting, Karma like, that what goes around comes around. The Kim family, the father (Kim-taek), the mother (Chung-sook) and their two children Ki-jung (daughter) and Ki-woo (son), barely make a living. One day, Ki-woo’s friend comes to visit and offers him the job he used to have, tutoring the daughter of the wealthy Park family. Ki-woo takes the job and very quickly discovers opportunities in the Park household where other members of his family can be employed.
First he plots to find a job for his sister, Ki-jung, as an art tutor for the Park’s young son. Next, he prepares a trap for the family driver and once he’s pushed out, plots to place his father Kim in that position. After that, it is the maid’s turn to make way for his mother. Thus the whole Kim family is now employed, without the Park being aware of either their relation to one another or how they got their jobs. But that is until the little boy discovers the four of them smell like the same. “The smell of the poor, the smell of the slum,” in the words of the screenplay.
With detailed scene setting and superb camera work by Hong Kyung-pyo, director Bong proves his skill as a master story teller. The cinematography leaves the audience awestruck and the plot keeps one completely engrossed in the story, especially the way it builds suspense. Bong’s subtle depiction of class and world of difference between the South Korean upper class and the lower orders of society using camera angles and lighting is masterful.
The plot takes numerous twists and turns, not all of them essential to the point the film seeks to make. Suffice it to say that it’s fast paced and interesting enough to keep the audience on tenterhooks, guessing where it’s all going to end. The acting is workmanlike, though Kim taek is a standout as the greedy and desperate father whose urge to mimic the upper class ends up in frustration and rage against the rich.
Parasite create Hollywood history by winning for the first time ever the coveted best movie at the Academy Awards for a non English film (as well as best foreign film and best original screenplay). Bong also won best director. The English subtitles were more than adequate to follow the film’s fast paced but nuanced plot. In short, an intriguing but thoroughly entertaining movie.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Jang Hye-jin
Running time: 2 hours 12 minutes