You’ve probably heard the buzz about this South Korean film due to the plethora of awards it was nominated for (and won). I went to see Parasite in theaters with my husband to see what the hype was all about, and it did not disappoint. (Also, I got a big soft pretzel at the theater and it trumps popcorn hard.)
Parasite is marketed as a black comedy thriller, so when the first ¾ of the film included zero traditional “thrillings”, I started to question what was going on. We follow Kim Ki-taek and his family as they scrape to get by on a very meager income. Neither Ki-taek’s father or mother have a job, so the financial responsibilities fall to him and his younger sister, Kim-Ki-jung.
One afternoon, Ki-taek’s friend swings by to bring his family a gift, and to ask Ki-taek a favor. The gift is a large stone said to bring wealth and prosperity to whoever owns it, and it plays a recurring role throughout the story.
For the favor, he asks if Ki-taek will fill in for his tutoring gig while he’s studying abroad. The gig is teaching the daughter of a wealthy family – the Parks – who Ki-taek’s friend says are very trusting and “simple” rich people. If Ki-taek were to take the gig he would surely make good money, and more importantly, be able to keep an eye on the young Park girl. His friend is interested in her and asks Ki-taek not to make advances towards her while he’s away.
As you might guess, of COURSE Ki-taek ends up getting involved with this girl. But, that’s not the weird part. The weird part to me is that this girl is clearly WAY younger than both these dudes. Ki-taek’s friend even references it during their conversation, saying he’ll finally ask her out when she graduates.
The whole thing is mildly disturbing to me. I felt like they were sexualizing a child. However, I also know that women in Korea are put under a lot of pressure to appear young, so maybe that cultural aspect should be considered.
Anyway, Ki-taek goes to the interview at the Park’s, and it’s unlike anything he’s ever seen.
The luxury. The decadence.
Being the resourceful teen he is, it isn’t long before Ki-taek sees an opportunity to increase his profits. He enlists his sister Ki-jung to join the Park’s staff as an art therapy teacher. Just as her brother did, Ki-jung uses fake credentials and clever manipulation to land the job. It is unbeknownst to the Parks that Ki-jung and Ki-taek are even related.
The cycle of creative and sneaky plotting continues as the Park family unknowingly find themselves completely intertwined with the Kims. Soon, the entire Kim clan is working for the Parks using aliases and fake backstories.
Just as you think you have a handle on everything that’s going on, the THRILL portion kicks in. It comes out of nowhere, is very emotionally confusing, and is a hard left turn from the campy, darkly humorous tone of the rest of the film. There’s one turning point in particular that you will NOT see coming.
I definitely need to see this film again to understand all of the nuanced commentary on social and class structure. If going by my initial impression, I think director Bong-Joo Ho captured this struggle elegantly and created an undertone that remained visible through the film’s many small details. I saw several of those details in the first watch, but I’m sure many also were missed as my mind scrambled to unwind the chaos it was witnessing. It’s worth a watch, and also a second, to really absorb and appreciate Parasite.