The Korean class system has never been more upsetting/riveting.
Kim Ki-taek (played by Song Kang-ho), his wife Choong Sook (Jang Hye-jin) and his children, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and Ki-jeong (Park So-Dam), live in a semi-basement flat. Living in the lower strata of society, the family leech off a nearby cafe's Wi-Fi and they eke out a living by folding pizza boxes. Ki-woo's friend offers him his tutor position for the daughter of a wealthy family. After getting into the good graces of the family's matriarch, Mrs Park (Jo Yeo-jeong), Ki-woo slowly includes the rest of his family into the Park's payroll. What seems like a stroke of good fortune for the Kim family takes a turn that no one can plan for.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
After his dalliance with science-fiction (Snowpiercer and Okja) and having Parasite be the first Korean film to win the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Bong Joon-ho's return to the Korean milieu proves that the director can still keenly expose the societal ills without a big budget.
Joon-ho's demarcation of society is clear enough: the rich live in the upper levels of the city, while the impoverished reside beneath; the notion is exemplified when, during a downpour, the Kims make their way down from the heavenly abode of the Parks; through winding steps back to their flat that's already flooded by the rain.
Yes, there is a line, a deeply-etched divide between the haves and the have-nots but the line between good and evil is almost non-existent. You root for the Kims because they are people who not only want to keep up with the Joneses, they want to be them but you pause at their underhanded means of getting it. The Parks are polite, have good intentions but their privilege can blind them, make them ignorant. As Kim-taek said during a drunken revelry, "the Parks are only nice because they are rich."
Despite the overhanging grim cloud of classicism, the movie, inimitable Joon-ho's fashion, is also filled with levity and tension. Elements of a heist movie come to mind as the Kims scheme on how to get on the Parks' meal ticket. Then, there are white-knuckled episodes where the Kims had to scurry to clean up the house when the Parks suddenly cut their vacation short and are en route home.
Smell is also integral to the story. The Park's youngest son, Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon), first brought up about how the Kims all smell similar. Then, Mr Park (Lee Sun-kyun) remarked about how whenever Ki-taek chauffers him, there is an odour that's akin to "the ones you encounter when you take the subway". It's code, of course. For poor people. For people, who take public transport. For people who don't live in lavish condos. It seems that even if the Kims were to play pitch-perfect roles in fitting into the upper echelons of society, they can never truly free themselves from something so personal, so ingrained, as their scent.
As a conflicted priest in Park Chan-wook's Thirst to his role as a dullard in Bong Joon-ho's The Host, Song Kang-ho can do no wrong. Here, he plays the lackadaisical patriarch of the Kims. He's a teddy bear to his wife even when she denigrates him. He loves his kids, he goes with the flow. His goals are different from his son's in that he rolls with the punches that life has thrown him. During a scene, Ki-woo asks Ki-taek what was his gameplan. Ki-taek replies that his plan… is not to have any. See, a plan can either lead to success or to failure. The only way for Ki-taek to be content with his lot is never to make plans, that way he is never disappointed.
The weight of this ethos is felt throughout the film. It's a philosophical downer but one that is rooted in the reality of Ki-taek's hard-knock life. Plots go sideways and the Kims struggle to maintain the facade that they had meticulously built together and given all that has transpired, it might seem that Ki-taek is proven right in his beliefs.
But though familiar with the acre of hell the Kims have lived with their entire lives but what are plans, if not hope for a sod of heaven?
What we didn't like
That not many people are watching this gem of a movie? Huh, if we're to nitpick the movie, and it is tough to find something negative to pick on, maybe the revelation of Da-song's paranormal encounter could be made earlier? That quickly explains the kid's behaviour and also lies in with the film's theme… y'know, ghosts still living in a house, symbiotic relationship between parasite and host?
Yeah. I dunno. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What to look out for
It had only occurred to me after the credits rolled but there were hints of what really was going on. Just keep an eye out for the lights randomly going off and on.
Parasite is out in theatres.