I really love a horror film, which will be absolutely evident if you have read any other of my film articles; but I quite often find myself saying “they don’t make them like they used to”. The characters seem insipid in newer horror to the point I don’t really care what happens to them, and the plot generally fairly predictable, so it is always a joy when a film comes along that has great characters and a twist so unseen that it shocks you.
Parasite is a new Korean comedy horror, which was premiered in at the Cannes Film festival and became the first Korean movie to win the Palme d’Or, and was the first film to win this award with a unanimous vote since “Blue is the Warmest Colour” in 2013. At the Academy Awards, this film won the most accolades with Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screen Play and Best International Film. I have to say, I don’t usually buy in to the awards thing to decide if I like a film or not, but after watching, I can see why this film has become a bit of a phenomenon.
Boon Joon-ho directed this film and co wrote the screen play with Han Jin-won and it explores the class differentiations which can be seen in South Korea – known to the millennials as Hell Joseon, which is literally a term to describe the difference in the class divide within South Korea. While this is the overarching theme, there many underlying ones which penetrate the very fabric of the story. Even the Sisyphus myth (you know the guy who is made to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity) is worked into this well-planned masterpiece.
Usually I wouldn’t disclose the plot line of a film being so new out, but with this one, I think that there is some merit breaking down the plot and letting you decide who the parasite really is. If you don’t want spoilers to this film, maybe look away now…but please come back and read when you have seen the film.
It starts with a poor family, living in a basement apartment, making ends meet by folding pizza boxes. A friend of the family, Min (Seo joon Park) arrives at the house baring a gift of a scholar rock (no this isn’t Harry Potter, don’t worry), and explains to the family that it is a gift from his grandfather, and the rocks are supposed to bring good fortune. Min then discusses an opportunity with the son of the family, Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi). As Min is moving away, there is a job going to privately teach English to a wealthy family’s daughter. After some persuasion, as he doesn’t have the relevant qualifications, Ki-woo goes to meet the family and achieves the job as the teacher, under the name Kevin.
The family form a plan to each take jobs in the household, so the daughter, Ki-jung (So-dam Park), becomes the art teacher to the young son Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung). Da-song is considered a child genius as his art is Basquiatesque (if you don’t know who I am talking about, you haven’t missed much), and the boy is uncontrollable. Ki-jung, who assumes the name Jessica for the art teach guise, comes in with odd techniques that she has googled and seems to get the boy under control.
The family next plot to get the father Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) a job. Jessica leaves a pair of her worn knickers in the back of the families car. The families father, Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee) finds the knickers and gets his wife, Yeon-Kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo) to fire his drive with minimal fuss. Taking a recommendation from Jessica on an “older driver” that she had heard about to take the job. Ki-taek takes the job under the name Mr. Kim.
Finally to get their mother into the loop of lucrative jobs, a plan is hatched to get the Park family housekeeper fired. This works fantastically and leaves and opening for Chung-Sook (Hye-jin Jang) to swoop in and take the job. I won’t reveal the plan, you will need to watch the film, needless to say it is dark, funny and traumatic.
During this, Kevin and the Park’s family daughter, Da Hye (Ji-so Jung) have started a relationship. Initially I thought this was fake, but the more the film goes on, the more convinced I was that this was one of the only true relationships that is built in this situation.
As the Kim family settle into their new jobs, reaping the benefits of the rich families assets, the Park family decide to go on a camping trip as the monsoon rains start, because the son loves the rain and they feel the trip will inspire him. Leaving Chung Sook to look after the house and the dogs. Obviously the Kim family take advantage of this trip, deciding to stay in the Park’s house while they are away, gorging on food and whiskey. As they are sitting in lavish living room, the doorbell rings and it is the previous housekeeper.
Here the film takes a real unexpected turn. The previous housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee), explains that she was made to leave in such a hurry that she left something in the basement. She knows the Park family would be unhappy that she was there, so she has cut the CCTV wires for the cameras outside. Eventually letting Moon-gwang in, Chung Sook follows her down to the basement, where it is revealed it is her husband that she left behind. He has been living in the house’s secret bunker for the last 4 years trying to escape debt collectors. The parallel between his living conditions and the Kim family living conditions is striking.
This situation starts with Moon-gwang begging Chung Sook to let her husband continue to live in the basement, but soon switches when the rest of the Kim family fall down the stairs, revealing their own plot against the Park family.
In a very brief space of time the audience witness a scuffle, bribery and another scuffle, before a phone call comes in from the Park family that they are returning from the camping trip early and a demand for Ramen noodles to be ready for when they walk in the door. Panic ensues, which ends with Moon-gwang and her husband back in the basement, and the Kim family frantically tidying and hiding from the Parks, and Chung Sook cooks.
The family come in and notice nothing, as the Kim family hide under a large coffee table, and screams come from the basement. Da-song decides to camp in the garden, and both parents settle on the sofa to keep an eye on him. They discuss Mr. Kim and how he smells – like old boiled radishes – which Mr. Kim hears as he is hiding. They then have a little fun time on the sofa, fantasing about the knickers that were found in the back of the car.
The Kim family manage to escape when they fall asleep, with the except of Chung Sook, as she maintains her role as housekeeper. As the family take a treacherous journey back to their basement, the Kevin and Jessica panic about what has happened, while Mr. Kim seems calm…until their reach their basement apartment which has been flooded out by the monsoon rains. The three grab what they can (Kevin notable taking the scholar stone… Sisyphus incarnate) and they end up sleeping in a rescue centre for the night.
Mr. Kim has obviously been impacted by hearing that he smells like radishes as his demeanor changes, and when all three of them are summoned to a birthday party for Da-sung the next day, he is not in his usual helpful and happy mindset. He starts to associate with Moon-gwang’s husband in the basement, which during the night before, we see the respect and love he has for a family that doesn’t even know that he is there.
Kevin take the scholar stone with him to the party, and goes to the basement to try and kill Moon-gwang and her husband.
While Kevin is downstairs, Mr. Kim is being dressed like an indian to perform a fake attack on Jessica who will be delivering the birthday cake to Da-sung. Da-sung will rescue her from the indian and rein victorious, but Mr. Kim isn’t in the mood to play – Dong-ik tells him he is being paid to do a job, he should just do it.
Kevin, finds Moon-gwang dead, and as he looks at her body, her husband attacks him, eventually chasing him up the stairs and beating Kevin over the head with the scholar stone, leaving him in a pool of blood.
As the cake is being delivered to Da-sung, Moon’s husband runs out into the garden party, stabs Jessica. Da-sung has a seizure which the Park’s want Mr.Kim to drive them to the hospital, and Chung Sook eventually stabs Moon’s husband, landing on the car keys which are needed to drive the boy to the hospital, Dong-ik holds his nose as he retrieves the keys from under him, insinuating that he smells, which tips Mr.Kim and he kills Dong-ik.
Mr. Kim then runs off, disappearing as you see the party fall in to chaos, Kevin being carried out by Da-hye, and Chung Sook being left to tend to Jessica.
We find that Kevin has survived the attack, with some form of brain damage, and is let out on parole due to his weakened state. Jessica has died from her wounds, and Mr. Kim is still missing. Chung Sook and Kevin hunt for Mr. Kim to no avail, until one day Kevin discovers that Mr. Kim is now living in the basement of the Park’s house. He forms a plan that he will earn the money to buy that house, so that he can eventually free Mr. Kim.
I have left out large and intrinsic sections of the plot, as if you didn’t taken my advice and you still read this before watching, I didn’t want to ruin it completely, but this film has remarkable attention to detail and it makes the distinction between classes so well – the biggest being the way the two families live – the basement apartment which is awful compared to the large and beautiful house, with the basement which is larger than the apartment the Kim family live in.
There is a question of who really is the parasite, and when I was watching this film I was a little confused as to why Kim stabbed Dong-ik, which only came to me later in that he was one of the parasites who couldn’t complete his job (pretending he was an indian) therefore no longer getting benefits from his host had to kill him. I do also feel that there was a deeper reason, in that Mr. Kim felt an affiliation with Moon-gwang’s husband, therefore when Dong-ik showed him no respect in death, despite how much the husband loved the Park family, he felt that he had no other option but to defend his honour.
I particularly like the ending with Kevin creating his own metaphorical boulder that he will continually roll up a hill. He will never make the kind of money required to buy the house, so will be suck in a life of torture as his father dwindles away in a basement of a deserted house.
This film is a real worthwhile watch, and I have read that this is being made into a series for HBO, but I can guarantee that it will not hold as much reverence as this film does. I can only assume that they are doing this to assist those who don’t like subtitles.
Have you seen Parasite? Why not tell me what you thought in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?