Money holds a certain power in the modern world. If you don’t have it then in infiltrates every thought, every decision. Each dollar has a direct effect on wether you and your family survive another day. But when a person has money it elevates them above such things. It not only lifts them from poverty but insulates them from the impoverished they left behind, sometimes literally. Never has this disparity been more eloquently displayed on screen than in Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite.’
Bong’s film follows the Kims, a broke family living in a basement in the slums of Seoul, South Korea. Mooching off the neighbor’s Wi-Fi and folding pizza boxes for cash, they’re getting by, but just barely. Perhaps the best word to describe the Kim family is enterprising. Like so many families around the world struggling to keep their heads above water they have to be a bit crafty just to survive.
Contrast them to the Park family. Patriarch Park Dong-it (Lee Sun-kyun) has amassed a personal fortune running a tech company, allowing his wife Yeon-kyo (played wonderfully by Cho Yeo-jeong) to stay home with the kids in their beautiful home. They live their lives atop a hill, totally and blissfully ignorant of those poor souls struggling below.
Well almost totally ignorant.
There still exists an inescapable odor. Capitalism has helped the global economy boom, but it has left in its wake clear winners and losers. As much as those winners — the very richest among us — have sequestered themselves from those who have not had the same good fortune, they can’t completely escape that smell. It infiltrates their carefully crafted bubble. But it isn’t the scent itself, like “decaying radishes” as Park Dong-it puts it, that is so offensive. Instead it is the stale and constant reminder that the world is still suffering right under their noses.
Inevitably the Kim family, led by the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-Shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam,) uses their ingenuity to infiltrate the Park household. Ki-woo poses as “Kevin,” a college student and English tutor. Quickly gaining Yeon-kyo’s trust he recommends an art teacher, “Jessica” (actually his sister.)
But as is often the case in an inequitable society, the poor aren’t pitted against the rich, they’re instead forced to fight for scraps with others in need. In order to get their parents jobs with their new benefactors, the Kim siblings have to play dirty with the working class folks already employed by the Park family.
From there ‘Parasite’ takes some pretty wild turns that I wont spoil here, but the point is already crystal clear. Just like in the States, rapid industrialization in South Korea has created massive economic inequality. Director Bong Joon-ho has often used his art to shine a light on the wealth gap in his country and the dangers of unchecked capitalism. He understands clearly the dangers, and more importantly the victims, of the almighty dollar.
‘Parasite’ is easily one of the best films of the year. If it remains my number 1 is to be seen but undoubtedly the film will endure as one of if not the best encapsulation of the economic anxiety and inequality sprung from the global recession. In interviews Bong has often opined on the economic inequality and in his latest masterpiece he hammers home its dire consequences. The Kims and the Parks are universal, they represent a constant struggle between the working class and the system that keeps them working.
If you have the opportunity to see ‘Parasite’ in theaters I cannot recommend it highly enough. The film is Bong Joon-ho’s masterwork. It is an urgent meditation on class told through a story that is both hilarious and thrilling.
10/10 ‘Parasite’ is a brilliantly universal meditation on class and wealth inequality