“Parasite” is a 2019 South Korean black comedy/crime thriller film dealing with themes such as economic gap and social inequality. It depicts a tragicomedy of a poor family of four who tries to parasitize a wealthy family by posing as unrelated and being employed as private tutors, a chauffeur, and a housekeeper. Directed by Bong Joon-ho. 132 minutes.
The Kim family, father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam), and son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) live in a small semi-basement apartment in Seoul. The family is forced to live a poor life because Ki-taek has been jobless and cannot get a regular job since he had failed in business. Chung-sook is a former medalist in the women’s hammer throw. Ki-woo has failed the university entrance exams four times. They have low-paying part-time jobs, such as folding pizza boxes, and barely make a living.
University student Min-hyuk, a friend of Ki-woo’s, visits Ki-woo, and he gives the Kim family a suseok (ornamental stone) meant to bring wealth.
Min-hyuk suggests that Ki-woo pose as a university student to take over his job as an English tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family, Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), while he is studying abroad.
Ki-woo impersonates a Yonsei University student, and he is hired as an English tutor for Da-hye, who is a junior in high school, by the Park family.
The father of the Park family, Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) serves as CEO of a global IT company. He lives with his wife Choi Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong), his daughter Da-hye, and his son Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun) in his luxurious house on a hill. The house was built by noted architect Namkoong, who had lived in the house before the Parks moved in.
The housekeeper for the Park family, Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) has worked in the house since Namkoong was the homeowner.
The Kim family plans to parasitize the Park family by posing as unrelated and being employed by them.
Ki-woo introduces his sister Ki-jung as an art teacher named “Jessica” to Mrs. Park. Ki-jung is hired as a painting tutor and art therapist for Da-song.
One night, when Mr. Park’s chauffeur Yoon drives Ki-jung to the station, Ki-jung takes her panties off and hides them in the car. Mr. Park finds the panties, and he fires Yoon because he believes that Yoon had sex in his car. Ki-jung tricks Mr. and Mrs. Park into employing her father Ki-taek as their chauffeur.
The three Kims exploit the peach allergy of the housekeeper Moon-gwang to make Mrs. Park think that she has active tuberculosis. Moon-gwang is fired, and Chung-sook takes over as the Park family’s housekeeper.
In this way, all the four members of the Kim family become employees of the Park family. The son of the Park family, Da-song finds that they share the same smell.
While the Park family leaves on a camping trip, the four Kims have a relaxing time in the luxurious house of the Park family as if they were at their own home.
That night, a thunderstorm begins. When the Kim family eats and drinks in the living room, former housekeeper Moon-gwang abruptly comes to the house, and tells Chung-sook that she left something in the basement. Chung-sook lets her come into the house after the other three hide themselves.
Moon-gwang opens a concealed staircase door in the kitchen. The door leads to a basement (air raid shelter) created by the architect and previous homeowner. In the basement, her husband Oh Geun-sae (Park Myung-hoon) has been secretly living for over four years, escaping from debt collectors.
Moon-gwang asks Chung-sook to let him live in the basement, but Chung-sook refuses it.
Moon-gwang discovers Ki-taek, Ki-woo and Ki-jung peeking in the basement. She shoots a video of them with her smartphone, and threatens to expose their ruse to the Park family by sending the video to Mrs. Park.
When the Kim family fights with Moon-gwang and Geun-sae over Moon-gwang’s smartphone, the Park family suddenly comes back home because they call off their camp due to heavy rain.
The Kim family binds Geun-sae and Moon-gwang with rope, and traps them in the basement. Ki-taek, Ki-woo and Ki-jung hide themselves.
Mrs. Park makes Chung-sook cook a noodle dish called “Chapaguri” (a mix of Nongshim’s two instant noodles: jajangmyeon “Chapaghetti” and ramyeon “Neoguri”).
Moon-gwang tries to escape from the basement, but Chung-sook kicks her down stairs, and Moon-gwang has a concussion.
Ki-taek hears that Mr. Park is talking with his wife about Ki-taek’s strong smell.
Ki-taek, Ki-woo and Ki-jung manage to sneak out of the house of the Park family.
Ki-taek, Ki-woo and Ki-jung find their semi-basement apartment flooded with sewer water as a result of the severe rainstorm. Ki-woo takes their suseok out of their apartment. They shelter in a gymnasium with other displaced people.
The next day, Mr. and Mrs. Park host a house party for Da-song’s birthday in the garden. They invite Ki-taek, Ki-woo and Ki-jung to the party.
Ki-woo enters the basement with the suseok, and he finds Moon-gwang has died. He is attacked by Geun-sae. Geun-sae hits Ki-woo over the head with the suseok, and Ki-woo passes out in a pool of blood at the entrance to the basement.
Geun-sae takes a knife from the kitchen, and he stabs Ki-jung in the garden. Chung-sook scuffles with Geun-sae, and she impales Geun-sae with a barbecue skewer. Ki-taek sees Mr. Park being disgusted with Geun-sae’s smell, and he stabs Mr. Park to death with the knife. Ki-taek flees the scene, leaving the rest of the Kim family behind.
“Parasite” is a multifaceted film, which is a mix of different genres, such as drama, comedy, and crime thriller. It is an entertaining and critical film that depicts a story dealing with serious social issues in South Korea, such as unemployment, economic gap, social inequality, and class polarization, as a tragicomedy with black humor.
Bong Joon-ho said the film was influenced by the South Korean film “The Housemaid” (1960) directed by Kim Ki-young, in which a middle-class family breaks up after employing a housemaid.
“Parasite” is not a simple good-versus-evil story. It depicts two families in a complex relationship. Though the Kims are portrayed as people who suffer from poverty and deserve our sympathy, they are also wicked people who try to exploit others. And, as symbolized by their suseok, which is meant to bring wealth, it is not the Park family but rather the Kim family that is obsessed by wealth. On the other hand, though Mr. and Mrs. Park do nothing wrong in the eye of the law, they show their unconscious classism by classifying others based on smell. Furthermore, both have in common that they use others as objects for their own benefit.
In the film, there is a scene in which Ki-jung sings “Jessica, only child, Illinois, Chicago. Senior is Kim Jin-mo, he’s your cousin.” with Ki-woo before Ki-woo introduces Ki-jung as Jessica to Mrs. Park. The song is called “Jessica Jingle”, and became famous. It is a parody of the South Korean hit song “Dokdo is Our Land” (1982) sung by comedian and singer Jung Kwang-Tae. The original song is about the Liancourt Rocks dispute (a territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan).
“Parasite” won many awards, including the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, and four awards at the 92nd Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film.