“Parasite” begins with a clear look outside the windows of South Korean Kim family’s dusty cement home. The camera slowly pans down from the window, already at ground level, into the subterranean living room. From this first scene, the symbolism is embedded. The struggle of this low-income family is embedded in a household that is literally lower than the ground itself. Nobody in the family is employed. The father, Ki-taek, must fold boxes for a local pizza establishment while the rest of the family tries to get jobs. All of this information is relayed in the first few minutes of the movie, ingeniously establishing the setting, the tone and the desperation of the family, especially from the father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), to escape from their current position. The Kim’s big break comes from the friend of Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), the son of the Kim family.
Ki-woo’s friend recommended him as a tutor for Da-hye, the daughter of the extremely wealthy Park family. The Park residence, standing on top of a hill symbolizing their status of wealth, is lavish and comfortable. He nabs the job as Da-hye’s tutor, helping her with English studies. Ki-woo sees that Da-hye has an artistic younger brother who creates intricate paintings for his age. He then approaches the mother of the Park family to recommend an art tutor for her son as well. From this point, director Bong Joon-ho takes the audience on a genre-blending masterpiece that delves into unsettling twists and turns through the Kim family and their integration into the Park’s household.
“Parasite” is flawless in the execution of its portrayal of class conflict. The Kim’s constant struggle with poverty leaves them as the desperate “parasites” willing to siphon off the money of richer families. The Park family, however, are also parasites in their own right. They thrive off the struggle of the working class whose jobs only propel their wealth. They have a maid, a personal driver and other lower class serviceman While this may seem like a negative portrayal of both sides of the coin, there are no villains in this film. Every character can by sympathized with but still have flaws. The Park family is kind to the people they employ to work around the house, but their distance from the lower class makes them ambivalent of their struggles. The Kim’s are more scheming and disingenuous, but that is the only way they can make sustainable income. Kim Ki-taek grows to resent the Parks throughout the film for their unknowing perspective on the world around them and disrespect for the lower classes he is a part of.
The script of the film is air-tight, communicating to the audience in a nuanced manner. No symbolism is beat over the audiences heads; it is all subtle but easy to understand. For the ambitious leaps that this film takes, it is still accessible to a general audience. While the viewing experience can be enhanced with better understanding of South Korean culture, I would recommend this film to just about everybody. “Parasite” has so many elements to it beyond just the messages and themes. It is a comedy; it is a thriller, and it even feels like a heist movie.
The cinematography and musical score were the highlights for me. There aren’t many settings in the movie as the only two notable places are the houses of the Park’s and Kim’s. While these two settings are 90 percent of the movie, there is always an interesting or suspenseful angle of the darker corners of the Park’s household that perfectly accompanies the scene. Nothing is flatly shown; the scenes is all dynamically orchestrated. The music is also impeccable, supporting in the comedic scenes; swelling and tense in the suspenseful ones while still sounding coherent. The slow build of the violins at many moments of suspense crescendos at just the right moments, showing the precise care and detail that went into the sound and film editing.
Everything about this movie works; there is no weak element. The acting from South Korean veteran actors such as Song Kang-ho and rising stars such as Park So-dam and Choi Woo-shik sell their roles through grounded performances. The score and settings are built around a tight script and stunning symbolism in the set design. I learned after watching the film that each setting in the movie was a studio set. The houses and street corners in this movie were all constructed for the movie, and it definitely shows through its calculated perfection. Even with sets, this movie feels extremely realistic in its portrayal of the higher and lower classes of South Korea. I was so impressed with how everything worked so seamlessly together. I could not get enough of the movie. It is my favorite movie of the year, and I highly recommend “Parasite”.