Bong Joon-ho’s dark comedy thriller “Parasite” excels in balancing economic equality with class anxiety in its international debut. Constantly keeping its audience on edge, the film’s satire is equally matched with its twist ending and political commentary.
The film officially debuted at the Cannes Film Festival this past May, where it became the first Korean film ever to be awarded the Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the festival. The film contributes to the director’s existing works. Some of Bong’s most notable films are “The Host,” “Snowpiercer” and “Okja,” which premiered on Netflix. The release of “Parasite” marks his highest grossing film yet despite it not reaching its screening locations in America.
In the film, the Kims, an unemployed family, are met with the opportunity to exploit the high-class Park family by working in their modernist mansion. The scam begins when Ki-woo accepts a position as an English tutor to the Park family’s daughter, Da-hye. Despite not having the qualifications for the position, he is able to use a fake university transcript, created by his sister Ki-jeong, to tutor the 17 year-old student. As soon as Ki-woo recognizes Da-hye’s mother’s naivety, he and his family are able to orchestrate the firing of the current driver and housekeeper. As a result, each member of the Kim family pretend to professionals in their fields, including the make-shift role of an “art therapist” that Ki-jeong acts in for the Park’s son, Hyun-joon.
The first 45 minutes of the film present a rags-to-riches point of view in which the Kims succeed in deluding the Parks. However, as soon as the Kims let their guard down, their newly-found lifestyle is destroyed. In their celebration at the Park home, the tension finally bursts in a series of events that unfold to reveal the tragedy literally buried beneath the mansion, in a bunker built by the previous socialite architect in case of a potential North Korean nuclear bombing.
In a conflict between poverty and class warfare, the Kim family and the old housekeeper battle for employment under the Parks in a failed economy. Bong creates effective symbolic juxtapositions when the Kims’ basement apartment is flooded as the Parks plan a “Cowboy versus Indians” birthday party for Hyun-joon. The film shows the ignorance of the upper class, as the mother exploits and appropriates Native American culture when she purchases props from “American websites,” which Bong confirms in an interview with GQ, to be code for Amazon. At the same time, the elitist Parks integrate English into their everyday language, gauged as a marker for their class status.
Bong’s portrayal of the underground catastrophe acts as a representation of the modern class systems, in which he is able to portray the result of eating the rich from the inside out. The film’s ending elicits this, as the brawl results in the murder of innocents and the displacement of the Kim family. Bong succeeds in delivering the much needed shock value behind a social satire developed with a hierarchical downfall.