Parasite unmasks South Korean class division to global audience

Izzy Abbot, Staff Writer

Drama, comedy, horror, and social commentary are intertwined in Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite. Like parasites, the impoverished Kim family slowly infiltrates the home of the wealthy Parks through scamming, forgery, and lies.
The Kim’s deception begins when Ki-woo is offered a chance to fill in as an English tutor for the young Park Da-hye. Taking advantage of Da-hye’s naïve mother, Yeon-kyo, Ki-woo introduces his sister, Kim-jung, as “Jessica,” an “art therapist” for Yeon-kyo’s hyperactive son, Da-hong. Soon, through calculated determination and feigned confidence, Ki-woo and Kim-jung’s parents are enlisted as a driver and housekeeper for the Parks, who are completely oblivious that their new staff are all related. The Kims soon realize, however, that there is more to the house and the Parks than meets the eye. To divulge further into the plot would rob the viewer of the truly wild emotional ride that is Parasite.
Joon-ho contrasts the harsh realities of life below the poverty line with the gratuitous wealth of the Parks. According to the Japan Times, Joon-ho’s portrayal of class disparity hits close to home for South Korea’s lower class. For families like the Kims, social mobility is difficult given the shrinking job market, increasing real estate prices, and insufficient wages, the paper also stated.
The Park’s subtle jabs at their new staff’s rancid “smell” and ignorance of their own wealth and power further illustrates the dynamic between the two worlds. The Parks are dependent on their lower-class staff, as Mr. Park says, his architectural mansion would be in complete disarray without the help of their housekeeper, yet they quietly judge them for their lack of economic and social standing.
With the film’s production design, Joon-ho illuminates the disparity between the lifestyles of the two families, one gifted with extreme wealth and privilege, the other struggling to survive. Whereas most filmmakers opt for pre-designed sets, Joon-ho and his production designer, Lee Ha Jun, built these sets from the ground up: choosing every doorknob, floor tile, and kitchen appliance. From the menacing black doorway to the basement in the Park’s kitchen, to the demoralizing street-view from the Kims’ dilapidated apartment, each set only amplified the themes of class-consciousness and mystery omnipresent in the movie.
Parasite’s Best Picture win at the Academy Awards was monumental, not just because of its technical and cinematographic appeal, but also because it was the first non-English language film to accept the honor. The film, which also won awards for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film, received recognition before the Oscars at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and Golden Globe awards.
Joon-ho’s humor and depiction of family in the face of adversity and opportunity is relatable despite the story taking place on the other side of the world. The issues of class which the Kim family confront are also prevalent throughout the United States. The Kim’s desperation to make ends meet is made clear by their constant hustle: stealing the neighbor’s WiFi, cajoling an employer for a better wage, and taking public transport or walking no matter the distance are part of a daily struggle to live in a place that favors the interests of the wealthy. These obstacles likely resonate with many Americans who similarly struggle to support themselves and their families.