Parasite, the newest film from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder, 2003) is best seen without knowing too much. To know what to expect is to lose the impact of the film. This review sketches out the premise of the film and its impact on the viewer but stays away from further details. Bong takes the viewer on a ride and ratchets up the stakes and tension scene by scene. And he does it so delicately, the viewer doesn’t catch when the film shifts from a social satire to a thriller to a horror film.
The film begins at the bottom, literally. The destitute Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) is chronically unemployed. The family makes a little money with gig work, such as folding pizza boxes. He, his wife Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) and their two grown children, daughter Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) and son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), are crammed into a slummy basement apartment. Their view is an alley, where they’re treated to strangers pissing and vomiting. The family doesn’t have WiFi unless they steal it from a nearby business or neighbor. Ki-woo’s fortunes change when a friend asks him to be a client’s English tutor for the summer. Ki-jeong forges the university diploma and Ki-woo is hired as an English tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family.
The tutoring job kicks off the rest of the film. Ki-woo quickly finds himself living the dream- a cake job tutoring a pretty teenager, Da-hye (Jung-hye), who quickly develops a major crush on him. While the young girl’s attention is flattering, Ki-woo is more drawn to his employer’s lifestyle and wealth, despite the fact that Mr. Park oozes entitlement. Mrs. Park, (Cho Yeo-jeong), impressed by Ki-woo’s tutoring she asks if he knows an art tutor to improve the painting skills of her younger son, Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun). Ki-woo has the perfect candidate in mind: Ki-jeong. He does not disclose that she’s his sister.
The plan quickly escalates, by any means necessary. The Kims, pretending not to be related, waste no time in taking over the servants’ positions in the Park household. His mother replaces the Park’s live-in housekeeper. His father becomes the Parks new driver. It’s a subtle takeover completed with military-like precision. Parasite is indeed a satire and a dissection of class warfare. But circumstances quickly turn hazardous and lethal. The film begins as a social class satire. It concludes as something else entirely.
Bong’s 2006 monster movie, The Host, showed the literal monstrous results of corporate greed and irresponsibility. In Parasite, the monster is human greed and it corrodes the foundation of right and wrong. Are the parasites the Kim family, for appropriating a family to improve their own financial circumstances? Or is the Park family the real parasite here, for how they take advantage of the Kims and bend them to their will? The film examines the disparity between the wealthy and the poor using satire and shocking violence.