Parasite / Gisaengchung (dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2019) – An unemployed family takes interest in the wealthy Parks and goes down a dangerous road of fraud.
Genre-bending masterwork Parasite dives into the intimate lives of two families, forcing an introspective look into the difficult subject of the world’s growing social divide.
Bong Joon-ho is anything but a conventional filmmaker. Undeterred by controversy, his string of masterworks never steer away from sharp critiques on politics and capitalistic greed. The Host, Memories of Murder, and Mother; few have made movies as resonant as his, earning deserving acclaim for their layered reflection on South Korean society.
Recent years saw him reach English-speaking audiences with genetically-engineered pigs ripe for slaughter (Okja), and a brewing revolution aboard an analogous train (Showpiercer). The commentaries on class divisions again hit home for many, especially during this politically trying decade.
Back on home grounds, the South Korean director continues to transcend borders with his latest social satire on economic inequality. More akin to his former all-Korean productions, Parasite roots itself back in harsh reality, homing in on two families of different worlds.
The film opens with Kim Ki-taek and his family in their squalid semi-basement apartment, out of work and struggling to make ends meet. On the other side of the fence is the wealthy Parks, whose successes afford them luxurious lives, far removed from ordinary society.
Upon a chance meeting, the Kims see their way out of poverty. They begin to devise an elaborate ruse to get themselves employed in the Park family. Secrets pile on, not without consequences. The third act sees their ploy uncovered and leads to violence, fuelling the fire of an irrevocable tragedy.
Bong Jong-ho’s cleverly constructed work conceals its many turns, tense in its unpredictability of genre and story. A darkly comic drama it is, but the underlying reality is also tragic and terrifying. As the Kims find their way up the social ladder, they unhesitatingly do so at the cost of others. Rather them than us, they think, a notion that is sadly and dangerously prevalent in this dog-eat-dog world.
This is no typical story of vengeance against the prideful rich. The Kims held no malicious intent, nor are they particularly covetous. There is no deserving hate either. The Parks are kind, graceful, and entirely welcoming. What sparks the conflict is instead an unspoken resentment between the have and the have-nots, one that they themselves may not be aware of at all.
In one scene, Mr Park’s young son casually remark on the Kims’ unpleasant odour. Mr Park himself unknowingly wrinkles his nose at Kim Ki-taek in another. These seemingly trivial acts are marked with such apparent ignorance, deeply unsettling in how empathy has ebbed away for ordinary people in modern society.
Powerful in its message, Parasite is a rage-fuelled warning on what the widening wealth gap has cost us. The rich are desensitised to the troubles of the poor, while the poor bears complex animosity towards the rich. It is a sobering truth the film delivers, beckoning every one of us to reflect on our ailing society and more essentially, our changing selves.