by Hunter Johnson
Director Bong Joon-ho has displayed social issues in many films. In “Okja,” he asked some difficult questions in regard to animal cruelty. Before that there was the sci-fi action film “Snowpiercer” that addressed class conflict. Now he’s made another film about class conflict, but this time, his work has received four Academy Awards, including the highest honor of all: Best Picture.
“Parasite” tells the story of a poor family and a rich family. The poor family infiltrates its way into the house of the rich family through manipulations, and the rich family relies on the poor family’s labor for survival.
Joon-ho poses the question, “Which family is the parasite?”
Over the course of his film, Joon-ho develops a story that shows the intense conflict between social classes. Nobody in this film is morally upright, and everyone has an ulterior motive for their actions — whether that be the poor family sucking the resources from the rich family, or the rich family believing that poor people exist to serve them.
“Parasite” is not a film for the faint of heart. It explores dark themes of deception, control, and depravity. It contains shocking and graphic scenes of violence and sexuality that all point toward the existentialism of those who lack a moral compass.
As a South Korean director, Joon-ho has a specific goal in mind as director of this film. He’s looking at the impact that the disparity of wealth has on the common citizens of South Korea and shows how that disparity is the cause of so much prejudice between social classes. “Parasite” brings that disparity to life through a few key components that make this film an astounding achievement.
The cast drives this message home. Song Kang-ho stars as Mr. Kim, the father of the lower-class family. He gives a performance filled with intense despondency toward life. His role is disturbing to watch, playing Mr. Kim with a hopelessness that affects his children’s lives in unfortunate ways.
Jang Hye-jin and Choi Woo-shik both give very nuanced performances as Mrs. Kim and their son, Ki-woo, respectively. Their actions show the morally corrupt nature of the Kim family as a whole.
However, the most captivating character on screen is Park So-dam, playing Ki-jung, the daughter of the Kim family. So-dam elicits pure tranquility in her casual performance of the manipulative daughter who can con her way out of any situation.
Playing the higher-class family is Lee Sun-kyun and Cho Yeo-jeong as Mr. and Mrs. Park, respectively, as well as Jung Ji-so and Jung Hyeon-jun as the Park children.
Cho Yeo-jeong specifically gives an outstanding performance as the ignorant Mrs. Park, who never seems to realize that the Kim family is slipping right under her nose. She plays her with an innocent charm that displays motherly love, as well as a complete lack of ability to take care of her children on her own.
This inability to care for her children shows even more of the parasitic nature of both families. The Kim family steals the resources of the Park family, but Mrs. Park shows her own parasitic nature in essentially needing the Kim family to survive. She can’t do anything without them. She needs them to school her children, to take care of the house, to drive her family wherever they need to go, etc. This dynamic is one of the most pivotal aspects of the film.
Joon-ho made a key decision in the humorous tone of “Parasite.” The dark subject matter throughout is paired perfectly with a pitch-black humor that creates a disturbingly engaging watch. The unique ways that the Kim family infiltrates the Park family’s lives is as wickedly funny as it is dark and detestable.
This black comedy is brought out not only by the actor’s complex performances, but by Jung Jae-il’s beautiful score as well. Jae-il worked closely with director Joon-ho to create a captivating musical score of light percussion mixed with piano and strings reminiscent of classical music, as well as devious undertones spliced in throughout to signify the shrewdness of the Kim family’s actions.
All these components of “Parasite” add up to create a thrilling experience that is bound to shock its viewers in dark and twisted ways. It’s well deserving of its Best Picture win at the 2020 Academy Awards, as well as its other wins for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film.
After writing and directing hits like “Okja” and “Snowpiercer,” as well as other critically acclaimed films like “The Host” and “Mother,” his status as one of the greatest living directors is established by “Parasite.”