Cinematic Releases: Trickle Down Economics: Parasite (2019) - Reviewed

Class divide is a popular topic in films, and it is a theme that director Bong Joon-ho has tackled before, in his sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer (2013). Unlike Snowpiercer, his new film Parasite (2019) eschews the fantastical setting and goes for something much more realistic and close to home.

Parasite is centered around two clans in South Korea: the affluent Park family and the poor and unemployed Kim family. The Kims are barely scraping by, living in a moldy basement and have been taking odd jobs just put food on the table. One day the eldest son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) is paid a visit by his successful college friend who asks him to take over as an English tutor for the daughter of a rich family. He agrees and after getting some papers forged he heads over to the Park estate. The family immediately warms up to him and the rest of the film follows the interaction between the Kims and the Parks and the parasitic financial relationship they develop with each other.

Like most of Bong Joon-ho's work this film is filled with lots of dark satirical humor punctuated by sudden tone changes and surprising developments. The first half of the film is rather lighthearted as the audience watches the Kim family con their way into the Park household taking their naivete and running with it. Mrs. Park (Cho Yeo-jeong) especially is incredibly trusting and she is so removed from the way normal people live that it is akin to her living in a fantasy world. This film takes a lot of glee in savagely critiquing the rich and their habits both in the way it depicts the Parks and how it contrasts the quality of life between the rich and the poor in Korea.

That being said, the Kims have their own issues, as at the end of the day they are taking advantage of people not too far from their own station as they systematically get the hired help at the Park mansion fired so that they can take over their jobs. No matter how low you are on the totem pole as it were, there is always someone who is doing worse. Parasite occupies a morally ambiguous area where the characters all have good and bad things about them, and it's their environment that dictates their actions. The audience will find themselves emotionally going back and forth between pity and revulsion for both families and that is thanks to the fantastic writing and stellar performances. Bong Joon-ho is a master of depicting family dynamics in a believable way and this film is no exception. Parasite is gorgeously filmed with each scene set-up perfectly to compliment the subtext of the film. The dichotomy between the warmly lit grungy hue of the Kim household and the icy cold beauty of the Park estate visually reinforces the chasm between the two lifestyles.

The idea that wealth will eventually trickle down from the top and make its way to the lower class population is depicted literally and figuratively here with layer upon layer being revealed. The film delicately examines how being rich is a dream that many people have despite simultaneously despising those who already have the wealth. Parasite is a metaphor about class warfare, but distilled to a microcosm consisting of just these two families. Are the Parks bad people just because they are wealthy? Are the Kims bad people for taking advantage of them even though they need the money to survive? Bong Joon-ho doesn't provide easy answers to either of these questions because in real life things aren't black and white--they operate in shades of grey. Underneath the facade of civility lies a simmering anger that just might explode and take everything we love with it. 

--Michelle Kisner