Bong Joon-Ho wages class warfare in ‘Parasite’, one of the most socially scathing films in recent memory
In the middle of Parasite, one of its characters asks another if they should feel bad about exploiting the rich Park family. “They’re rich but still nice,” he admits after some thought.
But his family is not entirely convinced. “They’re nice because they’re rich,” they correct.
That’s just one of the many conundrums that seeks answering within South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, one of the bleakest, most eviscerating class satires ever committed to film. Mostly directed toward one of the film’s main characters Park Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo), a rich housewife who doesn’t seem to do much, that mindset towards the rich is one that can easily extend to questions about real life courtesies. Is the rich Park family only kind because they’re comfortably sitting up there on that throne? Do they have different thoughts about the rest of us when the mansion doors are closed? Of course, only a few can truly know the answer. As for the rest of us, well, Parasite can help by offering a few possible scenarios.
The winner of the coveted Palm D’or during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Parasite follows the Kims, a family of smooth-talkers who are dirt poor and unemployed. There’s the ex-driver Kim Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), the ex-hammer throw medalist Kim Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang), artist Kim Ki-jung (So-dam Park), and university hopeful Kim Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi). When son Kim Ki-woo gets the opportunity to tutor a wealthy high school student in English, he takes it with some hesitation. He’s not the smartest person, but what he lacks in knowledge he makes up for in charisma. But after meeting the “simple, but nice” Park Yeon-kyo who “only hires people based on referrals,” he realizes that he’s sitting on an untapped gold mine. With little effort, he sets a plan in motion—a plan that take advantage of Yeon-kyo’s affinity for nepotism. But what starts out as a black comedy soon becomes a nightmare for everyone involved—from the poor Kim family to the rich Parks.
Part biting satire and part anxiety-inducing thriller, Parasite sneaks up on you in the latter half of the film, completely turning the premise of the film on its head and digs the issue of class warfare into unexplored depths. There’s a sense of dread that permeates throughout the film, but it’s not until the end of the film that that feeling is truly realized. By the time Parasite reaches its shocking resolution, your jaw will be on the theater floor. Just when you think that things can’t get any more ridiculous, it surprises once again.
Co-written by Bong Joon-Ho and Jin Won Han, Parasite is a film that has a piercing message that works so well because of how rooted it is in the real-world. Although Bong has mentioned that the film isn’t a political one, the ideas that he present allow you to draw certain conclusions about capitalist economic disparity rather easily for yourself. Widening economic gaps, nepotism, and the difficulty climbing the social ladder are all vigorously highlighted and discussed in ingenious, new ways. In one of the most uncomfortable scenes in the film, for example, the Kim family is forced to listen as the Parks make love directly above them—creating a hilariously visual metaphor for the current class divide. In another, casual throwaway comments turn into microaggressions—lighting a fuse that will set off a ticking time bomb. Bong doesn’t hold back from dishing out hints like these in abundance. Although it’s a film of two different classes existing with each other, they’re never truly coexisting.
If films like Memories of Murder, Snowpiercer, and Okja haven’t already included Bong in the conversation of the world’s best directors, Parasite is sure to secure him a spot in that conversation. Matched by a terrifically assembled ensemble cast that is realistic, sympathetic, and well-rounded, Parasite truly deserves every single accolade coming its way. It’s a film that’s endlessly entertaining, and one that you really have to experience for yourself.
Rating: 5 / 5
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!