REVIEW: 기생충 [Gisaengchung] [Parasite] [2019]

Rating: 10 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 132 minutes
    Release Date: May 30th, 2019 (South Korea)
    Studio: CJ Entertainment / Neon
    Director(s): Bong Joon-ho
    Writer(s): Han Jin-won & Bong Joon-ho

This is so metaphorical.

Min (Seo-joon Park) arrives unannounced at the semi-basement dwelling of his old friend Kim Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi). The former is a college student about to study abroad, the latter an unemployed high school graduate doing his best to leech free wifi by the bathroom window since he, his sister (So-dam Park‘s Ki-jung), father (Kang-ho Song‘s Ki-taek), and mother (Hye-jin Jang‘s Chung-sook) have all fallen on hard times. Relegated to getting low-balled by a pizza joint for poorly folding their boxes on the cheap, the Kim family see Min’s visit (and his gift of a scholar’s stone) as a sign of new beginnings. Never shy about creating their luck via unsavory means, Ki-woo accepts his buddy’s proposition (tutor a student while he’s away) as a door towards unimaginable prosperity.

And why shouldn’t he? Min says the rock brings wealth and this opportunity looks to do the same. All Ki-woo must do is pretend he’s going to university, teach young Park Da-hye (Ji-so Jung) English, and avoid giving her naively trusting mother (Yeo-jeong Jo‘s Yeon-kyo) an excuse to question his motives. Mr. Park’s (Sun-kyun Lee‘s Dong-ik) job ensures his family isn’t wanting for anything, so why wouldn’t Ki-woo accept the lucrative salary offered in return for services he can actually provide? Why not also listen to Mrs. Park lament about her rambunctious son (Hyun-jun Jung‘s Da-song) and hatch a plan wherein his sister becomes the boy’s art therapist? Find a way to get Mom and Dad hired too and the Parks could feasibly pay for the Kims’ salvation.

Suddenly the title of director Bong Joon-ho‘s latest Gisaengchung [Parasite] comes into focus as the Kims infiltrate this upper crust household under false pretenses (each employed by the Parks under fake names to not raise suspicions of being related). Bong and co-writer Han Jin-won present them as surprisingly cheery criminals willing to fight tooth and nail for survival within a society that has left them to rot in poverty with little room to escape. So what if they’ve found a loophole in the system that avoids lengthy wait periods and insurmountable résumés from applicants with better qualifications than them? If the rich are so complacently entitled to think a recommendation from someone they barely know is worth more than a thorough background check, that’s their fault.

In this way, however, the Parks become as parasitic as their less fortunate counterparts. Here they are sucking the life out of people they look down upon to do the work they deem beneath them. Despite the Kims duping their employers, they aren’t stealing anything. They’re working hard and (Ki-jung aside since her “therapy” is a complete farce) earning the wages as presented to them. And the ease at which Ki-woo and his sister get the ball rolling to clandestinely coerce the Parks into firing their driver (Keun-rok Park‘s Yoon) and housekeeper (Jeong-eun Lee‘s Moon-gwang) in order to provide job openings for their parents proves who has latched onto whom. Yoon and Moon-gwang wore out their welcome? Release them into the wild and affix yourself to another’s back.

Bong has thus created a dynamic that shifts between predator and prey in ways that allow the Kims to simultaneous be victims and perpetrators alike. The wealth disparity in their country has ruined lives much like it does in every economically capitalist nation. This truth has pushed the Kims into a corner and they’ve discovered a way out as authentically conniving as it is hilariously absurd. Parasite is at the end of the day a comedy and the brazen way in which this family leverages their street smarts and desperation to pull the Parks’ strings is magnificent. But every ascent like theirs also brings with it an inevitable fall as painful to them as it is cosmically humorous to us. Rest assured that the filmmakers don’t hold back.

In order to avoid spoilers (it’s difficult to talk about Parasite in anything but broadly generic terms), I’ll simply state that this test of the Kims’ resolve doesn’t necessarily come from their employers. In a wonderfully circuitous fashion, their rise to a place of financial security causes them to grow complacent themselves. So while the Kims exist as inferiors in the Parks’ minds, others will eventually become inferior in theirs. The difference of course is that the former knows what’s possible and has a keen awareness of how far they can fall if/when things go sideways. Where the Parks allow themselves to be played like pawns, the Kims will resist. And whether they want to use violence or not doesn’t mean it won’t still enter the fray regardless.

The result is a wild ride culminating with a single evening wherein all parties intrinsically connected together gather in one place so we (and the characters) are able to fully comprehend their vast array of capabilities and deficiencies. Privilege and exploitation prove to be traits that are at once synonymous and adversarial depending on who wields which and upon whom. Public faces and private ones are exposed as being diametrically opposed to each other as lives are quickly rendered forfeit whenever one’s selfish needs outweigh those of another despite possessing similar or greater stakes. And what are the reasons why? Skillsets. Smell. Wardrobe. Kindness. Intelligence. Advantage. That which each holds important become weapons in a war devoid of victors. Vengeance and forgiveness are merely avenues towards destruction.

We therefore bask in the laughter that erupts from watching the underprivileged get one over on the aristocracy and tense up from the suspense the former’s boldness creates after biting off more than they can chew. Even so, however, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how it will all shake out as torrential rain brings sun-drenched hope. Because surviving the bad times only guarantees rising odds of falling during good ones. Once the floodgates of social and economic unrest are opened to reveal how the symptoms are in actuality the very root of the disease itself, there can be no chance of putting everything back inside Pandora’s Box. We can only take so much as a species before our threshold for civility is surpassed. A cockroach will eventually fight back.

[1] Ki-jung Kim (So-dam Park) and Ki-woo Park (Woo-sik Choi) in Parasite. Courtesy of NEON + CJ Entertainment
[2] Mr. Park (Sun-kyun Lee) and Yeon-kyo Park (Yeo-jeong Jo) in Parasite. Courtesy of NEON + CJ Entertainment
[3] The Kim Family (Woo-sik Choi, Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, So-dam Park) in Parasite. Courtesy of NEON + CJ Entertainment

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