'Parasite' Review: Bong Joon-ho's critique of socioeconomic systems is exacting, exciting and endlessly entertaining (2023)

The South Korean film is up for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

SAN ANTONIO — One of the more uniquely integral aspects of Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s films, particularly over the last 15 or so years, is a meaningful sense of place—a realization of geography between characters and their goals that extends to mood and meaning, and which ultimately turns the experience of watching a 2-D movie into something more tangible, thrilling and involving. A major reason the writer-director’s 2006 monster movie “The Host” endures is the symmetry of how physically close the bumbling Park family is to finding the captured Hyun-Seo and the minimal extent to which the forces of authority are willing to aid them; the ecologically-minded themes of 2017’s “Okja” are drawn out through the movie’s dichotomy of location as it goes from serene South Korean jungle to dangerously bustling American metropolis; and you can’t discuss 2013’s “Snowpiercer” to any extent without touching on the deliciously simple symbolism of the class hierarchy toppled horizontal in the form of a speeding train, with cars that become more affluent and cozy the closer you “fight your way to the front,” as the tagline reads.

Joon-ho’s “Parasite” – the 2019 Palm d’Or winner and now a righteous Best Picture nominee nine months later – brilliantly manages to find a primal form of his filmmaking ideologies while evolving them into a magnificent – and bloody – cinematic Russian doll. A story of class struggle that literalizes economic imprisonment, “Parasite” is both evocative of current global truths and also an echo of the sociopolitical commentary that the auteur injects his films with, giving what he’s saying as much consideration as how he’s saying it. Namely, by bouncing between genres as defly as he ever has, and in endlessly-thrilling fashion.

In this, the very best movie of 2019, Joon-ho’s coherent sense of place very much returns. But he’s perhaps never been so blunt, exacting, satisfying and omniscient at shattering the lines separating metaphor from reality.

Act I of this story centers on the down-on-their-luck Kim family, who leech WiFi service from nearby coffee shops and spend their days communally folding pizza boxes to get by, or at least get to the next day with food in their stomachs. Everything about their daily routine feels a bit mechanical, a bit routine, as if they cannot afford to dream about higher aspirations—let alone their own WiFi.

It’s easy to have sympathy for the Kim family, the patriarch of which, Ki-taek, is played by frequent Joon-ho collaborator Song Kang-ho. Now in his 50s, Kang-ho – who’s excelled at playing the goofball underachiever in Joon-ho’s past films – is suited for something more world-weary, and knowingly world-weary is exactly how Ki-taek comes off from the moment we meet him, even as he whimsically blurts “Glory to the holy WiFi!” It’s a funny moment, but also tinged with melancholy by the Kim’s situation. Joon-ho orchestrates every element of “Parasite” to a T, including our emotions.

The short-term situation of the Kims suddenly begins to look up when the son, Ki-woo, is shown an opportunity to make some money by tutoring the daughter of the affluent Park family. No matter that he’ll have to fake that he’s college-educated; he slyly plays the simple-minded Park matriarch, Yeon-Kyo (Jo Yeo-jeong) with a level of startling ease, and he’s off to bringing in more money than his parents or sister could ever have imagined. Slowly – and with a sense of uneasy organic direction, as if there was no other option – Ki-woo and his family turn his opportunity into a hilariously-staged, tightly-considered plan to improve their station by connivingly attaching themselves to that of the Parks’, and onto the ultra-sleek urban mansion that feels idyllically separate from the Korean streets it sits above.

The culmination of their scheme – one that Joon-ho makes easy for us to root on, before wrecking and testing the audience’s loyalties – is an operatic marriage of sequencing, musical score and slapstick sentiment that proves Joon-ho is at the top of his game. Rarely does a movie unfold with such satisfying clockwork precision—and Joon-ho, who shares David Fincher’s drive for perfection, inserts intention and meaning into everything in “Parasite,” from each cut to an actor’s glance to a camera movement…

….to completely pulling the rug out from beneath our feet. Joon-ho is both poking fun at himself and laying bare his agenda when Ki-woo exclaims, more than one, how metaphorical something in front of him is. If he only knew. Joon-ho’s indictment of 21st-century capitalist structures is made coherent, and given scathing tangibility, in the dichotomy between the Kims’ and Park’ respective abodes—in the case of the former, a look out the window curses them with the sight of a drunkard urinating on what constitutes their front porch. For the latter, venturing outside means journeying onto lush green lawns and backyards, with trees blocking their view of who lives further down the class hierarchy. It’s obvious what the verticality of “Parasite” represents, what stairs symbolize and what the juxtaposition is commenting on. Just as deft is Joon-ho’s toppling of the belief system he has implemented, and which the Kim family has ascribed to, once a former servant of the Parks’ whom the Kims surgically removed returns to the home in ostensible good graces. What follows is a second half as sensationally propulsive as the first, with consequences and fallout shifted to the fore.

Suffice to say, as everyone else has: The less you know about the mid-movie development in “Parasite,” the better. Joon-ho reveals harrowing, bitingly truthful depths to his subject matter like a fulcrum engineered for maximum cinematic impact, without sacrificing the pitch-perfect pacing and meticulous construction that comes prior. He takes wild swings in genre – one minute “Parasite” is comedy, the next palpable thriller, the next still something akin to a manifesto to bleakness and inevitability – yet the movie never lurches uncomfortably into new tonal territory. Rather, Joon-ho ensures the transitions are as natural as absolutely possible. Once the Kim family finds itself scrambling to keep its operation a secret, the film reaches a velocity in which you can never expect what’s going to happen until it does—yet every entertaining development feels like the only possible outcome that could have been had for a pair of families that have become entangled in a web of economic anxiety and fatal notions of self-sufficiency. Joon-ho – who wrote the screenplay with longtime collaborator Jin Won-han – makes it devastatingly clear where he stands on the things he’s made a career tearing into in his movies, to the point where you feel emotionally spent by movie’s end. The reason goes far beyond what actually happens in it—to the truths it bloodily carves out about the ways we live, and the ways we simply can’t.

With how tightly-orchestrated the movie feels, it only makes sense that the individual parts of “Parasite’s” ensemble cast never do less than harmonize with each other. Song Kang-ho is reliably great, but perhaps even better are Park So-dam, Jo Yeo-jeong and Lee Jeong-eun, who bring the subtleties of their respective socioecological situations to the fore in ways darkly humorous and endlessly-entertaining. Lee Sun-kyun, meanwhile, handily takes on the role of wealthy, and tidy head of house who can’t be bothered to divulge a sense of affection beyond the instantly-gratifying.

Perhaps the great triumph Joon-ho achieves with “Parasite” aligns with his greatest sleight of hand. Keenly aware of how mass media and popular culture have molded our sentiments about the ultrarich and everyone else, he folds our sympathies back on themselves, forcing the viewer to examine their ways of thinking by revealing varying rules of gender, family dynamics and motivation on each rung of the class ladder. And he does so without sacrificing the humanity of his characters—the Kims, the Parks and others aren’t merely pawns in Joon-ho’s social critique. They, and the realities connecting them, are what is at stake.

"Parasite" is rated R for language, some violence and sexual content.

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Jo Yeo-jong, Park So-dam

Directed by Bong Joon-ho

2019

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FAQs

What is the social commentary in Parasite? ›

"Parasite" is a social critique of Korean society, in which the stereotype of a poor but united family and that of a wealthy but dysfunctional family remain visible, as well as how everybody in society plays a role based on their status, adding to the formula the intangible divisions between social strata.

How is social inequality shown in Parasite? ›

These social inequalities reflect a social phenomenon in the real world which becomes the motives for fraudulent and greedy character and gradually leads to criminal actions. The gaps between both families are demonstrated in some aspects, such as economy and work, education, house, food, and fashion.

What is the overall message of Parasite? ›

Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite is a jet black satire of class conflict and wealth inequality; a leech which hungrily sucks until it has no choice but to explode and spray blood everywhere.

Does Parasite criticize capitalism? ›

It speaks to the gap between the lower and upper classes. It speaks to all of our inner desires for wealth and respect. Parasite speaks to the realities of a Capitalistic society, and Americans know full well what life is like under Capitalism. Capitalism pits different classes of people against each other.

What does Parasite say about poverty? ›

By stripping the Kims of their family history and stripping the South Korean shantytowns they live in of their larger social history, Parasite posits the dangerous argument that poverty is self-made. In fact, the development of Korean shantytowns was a direct result of government policies out of the residents' control.

How is Parasite a social satire? ›

He uses the title of his film as a metaphor to showcase the socio-economic differences in societies. A social satire, Parasite highlights the class struggle and creepy invasion of one's lifestyle. The story revolves around Kim and the Park families.

What is Parasite a metaphor for? ›

In most of the countries in today's world, the middle class is slowly but surely disappearing. And in Parasite, all characters are either rich or poor. There are only poor and poorer, and the middle class is nonexistent.

What is the conflict of the story Parasite? ›

Parasite is a thriller, black comedy . It tries to show a class conflict through two families. From a Marxist lens, a class conflict arises when the bourgeoisie dominates and asserts his power over thr proletariat which happens mainly due to the economic inequality.

What does the smell symbolize in Parasite? ›

In Parasite smell rouses rawer emotions: anger, distrust, discomfort and a dark sense of foreboding. Something closer to the raw truth. Bong layers rich visuals, but smell remains the film's emotive core. He is well aware of how smell can evoke memories.

What does rock symbolize in Parasite? ›

“This stone here is said to bring material wealth to families,” Min-hyuk explains of the gift, taken from his grandfather's personal collection. Meant to give the destitute family a leg up out of poverty, the suseok reappears throughout Parasite during important plot points.

Who is the target audience for Parasite? ›

Parasite saw half of its audience made up of moviegoers over the age of 55, while younger moviegoers (54 years and younger) were almost double of the foreign language film audiences in comparison, at 50%. Week-on-week this younger Parasite audience grew steadily in numbers while 55+ audiences slightly declined.

What was critics main problem with capitalism? ›

Prominent among critiques of capitalism are accusations that capitalism is inherently exploitative, alienating, unstable, unsustainable, and creates massive economic inequality, commodifies people, and is anti-democratic and leads to an erosion of human rights and national sovereignty while it incentivises imperialist ...

What type of satire is Parasite? ›

Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' is social satire of a particularly virulent nature, which makes it surprising that it has won three Oscars at the 2020 Academy Awards, that too Best Picture, Best Director as well as Best Foreign Film.

Does the movie Parasite reflects our contemporary society? ›

The film's message resonated with many South Koreans who identify themselves as "dirt spoons", those born to low-income families who have all but given up on owning a decent house or climbing the social ladder, as opposed to "gold spoons", who are from better-off families.

What is the main message of poverty? ›

Poverty is about not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and shelter. However, poverty is more, much more than just not having enough money. The World Bank Organization describes poverty in this way: “Poverty is hunger.

What does the peach symbolize in Parasite? ›

When a peach shows up in films like Call Me By Your Name or Parasite, it more often than not means there's trouble on the horizon. Its velvety texture, tender flesh and summery sweet taste works as a deceitful temptation, more often than not leading to pitiful misfortune. Call it the new forbidden fruit.

Who is the villain in Parasite? ›

Oh Geun-sae is the main antagonist of the 2019 Oscar-winning South Korean film Parasite. He is the husband of Guk Moon-kwang, who hid in a bunker for four years before the events of the film to escape loan sharks. He was portrayed by Park Myung-hoon.

What does the two families represent in the cover of Parasite? ›

In Parasite, a film allegorizing the “parasitic,” borderline symbiotic relationship between the upper class (represented by the Park family) and the lower class (represented by the Kim family), Bong argues that these two classes depend on one another in an unhealthy relationship.

Why Parasite is a masterpiece? ›

The film does an exceptional job in showing the ways that those who are impoverished are treated poorly in subtle ways, and the effect that it has on them is greater than many would assume. The film also calls to question how money influences the way people behave and addressing the advantages it gives the wealthy.

What do staircases symbolize in the movie Parasite? ›

The next symbolism commonly appearing in the film are stairs. Stairs played a huge role in the film, both the park and the kim family has to undergo the motion of going up and going down the set of stairs that symbolized the social stratification.

What does Bong Joon Ho say about Parasite? ›

Noticeably, when Fallon asks Bong to summarise Parasite, the director responds with: “I'd like to say as little as possible here because the film is best when you go into it cold.” At the press screening, audience members, including myself, contorted their bodies in weird positions due to the sustained tension, and one ...

Why is Parasite a Marxist movie? ›

The film is a stark satire on the inequality and abuse of power that remains etched in the fabric of society. By employing Marxist theory of class consciousness, the paper tries to focus on the disparities that lie between the capitalist and the working class as aptly seen in the Parasite.

What kind of drama is Parasite? ›

Parasite (Korean: 기생충; Hanja: 寄生蟲; RR: Gisaengchung) is a 2019 South Korean dark comedy thriller film directed by Bong Joon-ho, who co-wrote the screenplay with Han Jin-won and co-produced the film.

What are some examples of social inequality? ›

The major examples of social inequality include income gap, gender inequality, health care, and social class. In health care, some individuals receive better and more professional care compared to others. They are also expected to pay more for these services.

How is classism shown in Parasite? ›

For example, Bong Joon-ho's film Parasite (2019) utilizes food to symbolize social class: food is a vehicle in this film to show both the stark divide between the upper and lower classes and how such economic disparity can be perilous for society.

What creates social inequality in society? ›

The causes of social inequality include society's acceptance of roles, stereotyping, social organization by class (or class systems) and economic disparity, as well as legislation and political inequality.

How social inequality affects our daily life? ›

Their research found that inequality causes a wide range of health and social problems, from reduced life expectancy and higher infant mortality to poor educational attainment, lower social mobility and increased levels of violence and mental illness.

What are examples of gender inequality in society today? ›

Children
  • Gender stereotypes affect children's sense of self from a young age.
  • Boys receive 8 times more attention in the classroom than girls.
  • Girls receive 11% less pocket money than boys.
  • Children classify jobs and activities as specific to boys or girls.
30 Mar 2021

What is the impact of social inequality on social class? ›

One is that inequality increases the sense of entitlement in higher‐class people, because they engage more often in downward social comparisons. Another is that higher‐class people may be more concerned about losing their privileged position in society if they perceive a large gap between the rich and the poor.

What does the two families represent in the cover in Parasite movie? ›

In Parasite, a film allegorizing the “parasitic,” borderline symbiotic relationship between the upper class (represented by the Park family) and the lower class (represented by the Kim family), Bong argues that these two classes depend on one another in an unhealthy relationship.

What life lessons and values can we get from the movie Parasite? ›

In the end, this gave way for the two parasite families to abuse their kindness – which ultimately cost them their wealth, their peace, their family, and their lives. In the same manner, while being kind to others, one still needs to remember that their life is not ours to live.

What is the root cause of social inequality? ›

It happens within and among countries. It is a product of policies, laws, institutions, social-cultural norms and practices, governance deficits, and the unequal distribution of wealth and power.

What are the biggest causes of inequality? ›

Key factors
  • unemployment or having a poor quality (i.e. low paid or precarious) job as this limits access to a decent income and cuts people off from social networks;
  • low levels of education and skills because this limits people's ability to access decent jobs to develop themselves and participate fully in society;

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