The Kims - mother and father Chung-sook and Ki-taek, and their young adult offspring, son Ki-woo and daughter Ki-jung - are a poor family living in a shabby and cramped half basement apartment in a busy lower working class commercial district of Seoul. Without even knowing it, they, especially Mr. and Mrs. Kim, literally smell of poverty. Often as a collective, they perpetrate minor scams to get by, and even when they have jobs, they do the minimum work required. Ki-woo is the one who has dreams of getting out of poverty by one day going to university. Despite not having that university education, Ki-woo is chosen by his university student friend Min, who is leaving to go to school, to take over his tutoring job to Park Da-hye, who Min plans to date once he returns to Seoul and she herself is in university. The Parks are a wealthy family who for four years have lived in their modernistic house designed by and the former residence of famed architect Namgoong. While Mr. and Mrs. Park ...Written by
Also available in a black-and-white version. Instead of opting for a simple digital bleaching, Bong Joon Ho worked with a colorist and cinematographer to make sure each scene retained its texture. See more »
In a meritocracy, success and fortune are reserved for those who deserve it--those who develop solid plans according to their talents and abilities and who execute those plans through hard work and determination. Anyone can rise to the top, and for some lucky Cinderella, plucked from the cinders and gussied up in gowns, the meritocracy represents the heights of perfect egalitarian society: "I started with nothing and ended up with everything I ever desired; you, too, can achieve you dreams, if only you try."
The promise of unobstructed sunshine at the top of the mountain becomes justification for bitter competition, backstabbing, deceit, and callousness. You climb the crooked ladder until you make it to the straight one, and then, perhaps, when you at last feel secure, you can afford to be kind and confident and generous. "It's easy to be nice when you're rich," the mother in this film (Jang Hye-jin) at one point observes.
But it's a very long and very crooked ladder, and sometimes the rungs give out beneath your grip, and sometimes they've been dangerously greased by those who climbed before you, and sometimes the ladder itself is simply kicked down--either by those above you or, just as often, by those staring up from the ground below. There are a lot of people trying to climb that one ladder.
But in a meritocracy, you can't blame the ladder or the other people trying to climb it. Nor can you blame the fact that all the good stuff is kept so many stories up instead of down at the ground where everyone can easily reach it. No, you must blame yourself. You should have tread more carefully. You should have climbed more quickly. You should have used a firmer and more precise grip, anticipated disasters, and known just when to leap. If you fail in a meritocracy, it's all your fault. You should have tried harder. Better luck next time.
Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), the young man who is the main character of PARASITE, several times refers to "metaphors," and the film itself is, of course, a metaphor. On a surface level, viewers are treated to a very thrilling, engaging, well-paced and well-plotted crime story. At all times, however, bubbling up from beneath the slick surface of this genre film, there are deeply personal, meaningful truths that should resonate with almost any viewer. These insights are rarely foregrounded. They are so subtly interwoven, in fact, that if you're like me, you may be completely surprised when the final shots of the film roll and you realize that you are emotionally devastated by the intimate, humanist story you've just witnessed. Bong Joon-ho's filmmaking is so extraordinary here that he'll make you fully invested in the lives of his characters without you even realizing he's done so.
I want to avoid spoilers here, but suffice it to say that PARASITE is a masterpiece--beautifully lensed, enthrallingly edited, superbly acted, and intimately involving.
South Korea has a population that is one sixth the size of the United States, and that population is stacked into skyscrapers in an area slightly smaller than the state of Kentucky. Higher education is widespread, so parents with means try to make their children stand above the pack by hiring them tutors and signing them up for extracurriculars and afterschool programs. I lived in Korea once, and the children I taught there were sometimes engaged in learning ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week--public school, English-immersion private school, piano class, soccer team, taekwondo, math camp, chess club, and so on. I routinely worked sixty to seventy hours a week on salary, but at bars I would meet young men my age who were expected to work far more than that, who slept at their desks so that they did not need to pry themselves from work for too long. As the father (Song Kang-ho) in the film at one point says, this is a country where fifty young men with college degrees apply for a mere security guard job. One can't afford not to struggle.
The themes of this story are not just localized to Korea, however. They are the story of global capitalism, and the specter of American materialism (and imperialism; note the "Indians") looms heavily over the film. Meritocracy makes cannibals of us all. It's nice to dream, and sometimes the dreamers who plan and struggle well enough can indeed climb out of the basement and into the sunshine, and how nice an ending it is when they do. But the film also makes it clear that sometimes all that planning and dreaming may be, maybe, just whims and fancy. More often, it seems, our pipe dreams are content to leave us with nothing more than the whiff of spewed sewage.
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