Released 2019. Director: Bong Joon-Ho
WHEN WE FIRST MEET THE KIM FAMILY, father, mother, son and daughter are folding pizza boxes for money, practically contorting themselves to get a sweet spot on their neighbour’s wi-fi because they are too poor to get their own.
Then one by one they get a job working for the hyper-rich Park family.
And then, purgatory.
Bong Joon Ho’s latest work comes with a full set of teeth. A biting commentary on the social inequality in Seoul that’s funny, suspenseful and shocking. Bong is an expert in blending genres, combining comedy and horror with dexterity, shifting tones with ease.
Armed with a false recommendation, college-age Ki-woo charms a trusting Mrs Park into the role of English tutor for her daughter. With a bit of forgery, his sister Ki-jung enters the house as an art therapist. Orchestrating the dismissal of the chauffeur and housekeeper, dad and mum now join the household, but Mr and Mrs Park have no idea these four are related.
Though the Kims secure their employments through lies and scams, Bong’s depiction of this family is endearing. He never belittles them or portrays them in a negative light despite their dishonesty. Bong teases comic moments out of their situations with a light touch, without making them pitiful or desperate.
Mr and Mrs Park, though cautious, never suspect anything. They are trusting, and most importantly, never do anything illegal or immoral towards the Kims. They do not deserve what happens to them at the end, and that’s part of the shock.
The contrast between the two families couldn’t be more obvious in their homes. The Kim family live in a semi-basement with a window that opens to street level, where neighbours dump rubbish and the occasional drunks relieve themselves. Mr and Mrs Park and their two children live in an architect-designed modern home with ceiling-height windows that open to a garden and sky. One house is cluttered and grimy, the other is stylish and sparse with designer furniture.
The immaculate mansion of granite and glass, elegant and secure as a fortress, hides a secret not even its owners know about. More so here than in any of his other movies (The Host, Mother, Memories of Murder, Snowpiercer, Okja), Bong shows he really knows how to generate a sense of dread. Through the unexpected visit of the sacked housekeeper, Bong leads us to a hidden door in the house. Don’t try to find out what’s behind it before you see the movie. It’s fair to say the rest of the movie is so tightly directed you’re not aware you’ve been clenching your fists.
Bong’s vision of the clash between the haves and the have-nots turn many shades darker with one horrific incident after another. Much can be read into the depictions of these two groups of people. Their attitudes, intentions, confusions, indifference and prejudice come to a head at a child’s birthday party. There is an organic fluidity to the flow of events up to this point, regardless of how outrageous it all might seem.
When finally we’re through a gruelling last act and a particularly sobering twist, I couldn’t help asking if this was Bong’s most pessimistic movie, even though Parasite is easily one of the best movies of the year.
The Kim family are poor but they are not lazy or dumb. They are smart enough to pull off their stunt, and disciplined enough to keep the deception going. What these pro-active self-help grifters need are fair opportunities. Yes, they lied to get their jobs, but one could argue their punishments are far greater than their crime deserves.
In the end, we see the rich live oblivious above, and the poor continue to exist below, trapped and invisible. The chasm remains unbridgeable.