“This is a metaphor.”
This statement is uttered not once, but twice by young con-artist Kim Ki-woo in the 2019 hit “Parasite”. Director Bong Joon-Ho is no stranger to the metaphor. His breakout film “Memories of Murder” which comments on social policing, his creature-feature “Okja” which deals with capitalism and animal rights, as well as the class-conscious “Snowpiercer,” all contain clear messages and prominent themes.
Joon-Ho is a masterful writer, seamlessly able to tell a gripping, haunting story, rich with depth and meaning. In “Parasite,” he calls attention to his own storytelling via the characters’ self-awareness. “This is a metaphor”. Metaphor for what, exactly? It does not say. But the characters see it, and it’s important to them.
“Parasite” tells the story of the Kim family – father Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, son Ki-woo, and daughter Ki-jeong. A family of unemployed street rats that do what they have to in order to survive in a cruel and unforgiving world. With everyone unemployed, they do what they have to do in order to get by. When a friend of Ki-woo convinces him to take his place as English mentor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family, Ki-woo takes the job with enthusiasm. Intrigued by the Parks’ grandiose lifestyle, Ki-woo cooks up a plan to get the Kims to infiltrate the Parks’ home, and their lives.
To say “Parasite” is about class is true but misleading. Sure, there are several deconstructions of wealth and the isolation of social classes. We see Ki-woo and Ki-jeong press themselves against the ceiling of their trashed apartment to obtain Wi-Fi. The family folds pizza boxes for some money. They use anything and anyone they can to survive.
The movie doesn’t have so much an attack on the rich and privileged, as much as what it says about the separation of the classes and the arrogance it can bring. The Parks’ home is large, clean and immaculate. The Kims’ apartment is claustrophobic, unclean and odious. The Parks worry about the small things — small messes in their otherwise spotless house, the taste of their expensive meals, distasteful smells — things that the Kims would love the luxury of being concerned about.
Parasite is a film that goes in a certain and predictable path. You know what’s happening and you often have a guess of what’s to come. What’s beautiful about that, though, is that it never goes in that direction. Instead, it hits its brakes and takes a complete detour into something darker and far more sinister. The rich family never catches on, or prove themselves to be more evil or calculated than they appear. Rather, they’re dumber and more arrogant than you would ever think. Nobody becomes a better person. Nobody gets quite what they want. Life always gets in the way just when you think everything is going according to plan. The only thing that’s predictable about life is its unpredictability.
Parasite stands as an outstanding achievement of blending tar-black comedy and bone-shaking thriller. It deftly weaves its tones together in a way that’s amusing, twisted, and discomforting. You feel bad for laughing, but the film has a hold on you and you can’t control it.
The first half of the movie is a romp, never letting go with its dark fairy tale. But as the movie progresses, the events delve more into chaos. The montage of the Kims infiltrating the Parks’ household and bringing themselves into their lives is perfectly paced and edited. The sequence contains a dark, poetic beauty as the lower-class family takes over. Indeed, parasites they are.
Parasite has won a multitude of awards, including Best Picture and Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. On top of being Bong Joon Ho’s first appearance at the ceremony, Parasite has made history, becoming the very first foreign-language film to ever win Best Picture. It’s one of the most discussed and universally acclaimed films of 2019 for a reason. The fact that a foreign film has taken over the West and became as big as “Parasite” has is a testament to its sheer impact and power. Parasite is destined for a legacy of cult success and is a testament to the power of non-English filmmaking. It’s a movie that not everyone will love, but it’s a movie everyone should see.