“You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan.”Ki-taek, Parasite 기생충
There is little doubt in my mind that Palme d’Or winning Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite (2019) deserves every best film accolade across the globe this awards season. It achieves that rarest of phenomena – social relevance combined with high artistic quality, intersected with crowd-pleasing satire, undercut with a relentless surge of tragedy. It’s a bonkers, beautiful, radical & drop-dead intelligent tale of social inequality, mock egalitarian weirdness of late capitalism, class arrogance vs. monetary desperation, the perversity of the state of poverty, and all that without being up its own moralistic agenda.
The upstairs/downstairs South Korean city saga kicks off in a subterranean apartment, with the entire Kim family in turmoil as their Wi-Fi supply is cut off due to their neighbour installing a password. The laconic manner the pater familias Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song, as human time-bomb) deals with that crisis (involves bread loafs and bugs), and the way the sardonic matriarch Chung-sook, former athlete (a game Hye-jin Jang) is concerned about her WhatsApp, informs us of their ongoing status. Entirely impoverished, yet still hopeful.
This hits home some more (pun, inevitably, intended), when Min (Seo-joon Park) a soon-to-be-expat wealthy student friend of their college-aspiring son, bright-eyed Ki-woo (a soulful Woo-sik Choi), brings him a good-bye gift, a large stone, said to bring prosperity to whomever owns it. Chung-sook dryly comments that she would rather it were food.
After enduring the dubious convenience of street-level fumigation of their bug-infested basement home, while collectively packing pizza boxes for minimum wage, and hassling company’s middle management refusing correct pay – the family finally hits a golden streak. Student friend Min, upon Ki-woo’s lament on their dire straits, also bequeaths him his English language tutor position, to the nouveau riche Park family, and their teenage daughter Da-hye (Ji-so Jung). In their ultimate designer home. He further advises that the mother, Yeon-kyo (effervescent Yeo-jeong Jo), is a ditzy pushover, she’ll believe anything.
Thus the collective socially mobile journey of the Kims begins. They endear themselves to the Parks, even winning over Yeon-kyo’s aloof, casually cruel businessman husband Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee), under false names, and false qualifications, conning themselves into the Park’s domestic employment, one by one. Ki-woo is not an English tutor, yet passes, perfectly. His talented sister Ki-jung (brilliantly mercurial So-dam Park) is not an art therapist, yet is highly convincing. Recommended by her brother, presented as someone he barely knows, she shows great results with Park’s troubled, unruly young son Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung) – then swiftly manages to get rid of the slightly amorous family driver, and introduce their father as a kindly limo driver she once knew.
How the Kim family gets to inject their mother, Chung-sook, as new housekeeper, becomes significantly more sinister. The current one, the discrete Moon-gwang (magnificently off-the-rails Jeong-eun Lee) had been with the Park family since they moved in, almost literally acquired along with the architecturally renowned house.
In order to make her lose her job, they frame her (via a peach) as a health hazard. To paraphrase Chung-sook, only the rich can afford to be nice. When Moon-gwang gets the boot, all seems to be ticking along nicely. But of course, it’s not. The real class warfare had just begun.
Underneath the oblivious, arrogant upstairs, and the desperate, conniving downstairs, there is also a deeper underground, the basement tunnel level. And an unseen house guest that had settled there (wonderfully, creepily earnest Myeong-hoon Park). Living an existence devoid of light, life, and hope. But equally content with the status quo.
And so the dark satire becomes a social horror story. All because of a pot of ram-don noodles, a freak flood, and a persistent unpleasant smell.
Amazing cinema, ending as epic daydream, twisting the social-commentary knife some more, like a pro.
Author: ©Milana Vujkov