It feels like we’re on the precipice of huge change right now. I can’t truly justify that (I’m a film student, not a politician), but the amount of anger and vitriol and injustice in the world right now must be coming to a head soon. I don’t mean the cruel, pointless war that the US is insisting upon either – I mean an out and out, cataclysmic revolution. Why? Because we can’t go on like this. The Earth is dying, workers are more and more miserable by the day, and it feels like the booming crop of Twitter famous billionaires is bringing lots of people to their breaking point. Recognizing the horrors of late capitalism and the naive, infuriating ignorance of the super-rich in his own country, Bong Joon-ho (previously best known for his Netflix environmental fairy tale Okja) has made Parasite, a perfectly crafted wake up call that grabs you and shakes you: all is not well, and we can’t just keep calm and carry on.
Usually in this section, I’ll reveal plot details from the first act of the film, and maybe give an indication of the direction the narrative takes if it seems especially obvious anyway. But here, I really want to tell you as little as possible, so this is all I’ll say: a boy from the poor Kim family lies about his credentials to work for the affluent Park family, and chaos ensues. Though, to be honest, that last part isn’t entirely fair. What happens may seem chaotic from a certain perspective – how could people behave like this? But Bong Joon-ho takes care to position you squarely from the start in the semi-basement, with those who steal wi-fi from local cafes and fold pizza boxes to pay for dinner that night, so you can clearly see the layers upon layers of injustice that guides this film to its unforgettable climax.
Bong Joon-ho uses masterfully designed settings and cinematography to emphasize the cavernous class disparity between the families, starting from the opening shot: a slow, intentional descent into the cramped basement the Kims call home. For a while, it almost feels like you’re watching a social realist picture – just hanging out with the Kims as they go about the minutia of their life. But once Ki-woo is hired by the Parks, the aesthetic becomes cold and crisp; another world impossibly disconnected from the squalor of the city by a robust designer door. The house much of the film takes place in is beautiful and horrendous, a show of ‘tasteful’ excess for the four who live inside, barely visible to those outside of its walls. This paradise later becomes a hellscape, revealing the true cost of the Parks lifestyle beyond their sleek, modern exterior.
It feels like no mistake that the Parks have a family name that could just as easily belong to a white family from America, nor that various characters end up adopting English names throughout the plot. Ki-woo even initially works for the family as an English tutor, despite having failed the test himself, as any kind of Western qualification is valuable social currency. The Parks’ youngest child’s obsession with Native Americans is even more fitting; a key part of the hierarchy created by colonialism is, of course, the ability to fetishize other cultures you deem beneath your own. When accepting his Golden Globe, Bong Joon-ho profoundly stated that ‘once Americans overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles’ they’ll be able to watch many more great films – I hope that this advice is heeded by more people, and that they’ll start to see the world beyond what they project onto it.
It pains me greatly that the UK won’t be getting this masterpiece until February, but I urge you to avoid as many spoilers as possible before then. Go into the theatre with the information you’ve just read and nothing more, and prepare to be amused, shocked, and furious.