Sunday, February 9th was a historic day in cinema, as “Parasite” swept up four Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards. Directed by revered South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho, “Parasite” was the first-ever film to be considered in categories outside of those traditionally designated for foreign films. The win sparked hope in all those who didn’t think such an achievement would be possible for a non-English speaking movie.
“Parasite” is a Korean thriller that follows the impoverished Kim family as they struggle to keep afloat with their temporary jobs. At the inception of the film, a friend of the son, Ki-woo, gifts the family a rock meant to symbolize wealth and prosperity to whomever owns it. The rock plays a significant role throughout the film as it gives false hope to the Kims in their effort to climb the socioeconomic ladder.
Ki-woo is over the moon when he gets the opportunity to tutor Da-hye, the daughter of wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Park. Given the hefty paycheck Ki-woo receives, he convinces his family to infiltrate the Park home and attain different jobs working for them. In an effort to do so, they sabotage the Parks’ existing service workers and slyly replace them. Daughter Ki-jeong, secures a job as an art therapist for the Parks’ youngest son Da-song, the father Ki-taek becomes the family’s new chauffeur, and mother Chung-sook is hailed the new housekeeper. The Kims keep their familial relations a secret to the Parks as they put on the facade of being experienced workers in their assigned roles.
The crux of the film happens when the Parks former housekeeper Moon-gwang finagles her way back into the home, only to reveal a hidden underground bunker where her husband Geun-sae lives. Moon-gwang had moved him in years prior to escape loan sharks, and worried about his well being after she was fired by the Parks. The Kims, who watch this unfold, accidentally reveal themselves and Moon-gwang now knows their secret as well. Both Moon-gwang and the Kims blackmail each other, leading the Kims to trap both Moon-gwang and her husband in the bunker.
Upon arriving back home that night, The Kims are astonished at the sight of their home which has been completely flooded by a rainstorm. In the midst of all the trauma, the Kims have to follow through with their next day’s work as if all is well. With a guise of fake joy, the Kims assist the Parks in throwing a birthday party for Da-song. The party ends in horror as Geun-sae escapes from the bunker and begins a murder rampage killing Ki-jeong. Mr. Park, who lacks concern for Ki-jeong’s death, and is disgusted by Geun-sae’s unpleasant smell is murdered at the hands of Ki-taek. Ki-taek escapes from the scene and is never found by local authorities.
For those familiar with Bong’s work, a recurring theme in all his films is the dichotomy between power and corruption. With “Parasite” in particular, he brilliantly showcases classism and the biases both the poor and rich hold against each other. The way in which he exposes the complexities of human nature forces you to examine your own ideologies about different groups of people. The Kim family, who could very easily be pitied in the beginning, end up doing horrific things for a shortcut to wealth. Whether their actions were justified or not is up to the audience to decide. When generational poverty exists, and the system continuously favors those with access to resources, can you blame the disenfranchised for wanting to take shortcuts? In the same vein, when those shortcuts are at the expense of other innocent people, are they really worth it? Where your moral compass swings is something Bong encourages people to evaluate after they watch his films.
What truly grounds the film and makes it such an encapsulating experience to watch is the cinematography and top tier acting. The film would not be nearly as impactful without the beautiful composition of each scene and rawness with which each actor played their role. Given Bong’s film catalog, attention to detail is the last thing he could ever fail to do. Bong’s quest for telling a story that was authentic and honest is what has resonated with so many “Parasite” fans all over the world. The human experience is universal, and a great film, regardless of its place of origin, has the ability to transcend beyond the barriers of language. It’s about time the Academy Awards recognized that.