Directed and co-written by Bong Joon-ho, PARASITE (2019) is a South Korean dark comedy about a poor family who worm their way into the employ of a rich family by posing as unrelated, highly skilled people. The film has received numerous awards, including Best Picture Award by the Academy. I thought it was great across a range of strong notes, though it didn’t make as big an impression on me as it did others, maybe due to the high expectations I had going into it.
The film starts with the Kim family, who are unemployed except for odd jobs and live in a moldy basement apartment in a South Korean city. Despite their problems, they’re a tight-knit family who make the best of things, and they’re all likeable. When a friend suggests the son pose as a tutor and arranges an introduction with a rich family, he lands a cushy gig, and then schemes with his family to gets them all hired. It all comes to a head with a very dark ending that nails the film’s themes of class snobbery and resentment.
Class conflict is at the heart of the film, from the upstairs/downstairs imagery to the resentment that explodes in the climax to the very dark ending. Big themes include how the rich don’t see the poor as real people, how the poor fight each other for scraps from the rich man’s table, how a person’s perceived goodness is tied to wealth, and how the poor are very skilled but only need opportunity.
The result works on a lot of levels. The poor family is instantly likeable, as is the rich family, each in their own bubble of understanding of who they are and how the world works. The comedy is spot on, and the second act includes plenty of cringe as their plan comes under threat, all leading to a violent climax that is surprising and dovetails into its terrific final moments.
So overall, yeah, I loved this one, and for me it joins a lot of other very good films coming out of South Korea. Its success is as much a sign of the times we live in–what the director calls “late capitalism”–as the quality of the story and direction.