After making history as the first movie not filmed in English to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, it’s important to recognize that South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” was so critically acclaimed because of its universal themes not unique to Korean, American or any other culture. At no point did cultural context make any aspect of the plot incomprehensible to a foreign (non-Korean) audience, because the movie’s ideas are far more human than they are Korean. The film also won Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay (Joon-ho making two of the trophies kiss is the night’s best moment).
Personally, what stuck with me the most were the extremely tangible moments of classism scattered throughout the film with varying degrees of subtlety, as mostly illustrated by the wealthy Park family. Literal, in-your-face moments include when wealthy housewife Yeon-kyo remarks how people who ride the subway have a unique stench, or how the unfathomably extravagant Park home and its spacious lawn literally rise above the dense city, existing in an almost alternate reality. But director Bong Joon-ho spreads more nuanced instances throughout the film as well. The way Yeon-kyo cloisters herself in the family home, leaving household duties to the loyal maid while she daytime dozes (presumably under the influence) and maintains an over-trusting, naïve demeanor that would fare poorly in day-to-day life of the 99%. Both her and her husband Dong-ik’s insistence that their son requires art therapy and special coddling to me screams out-of-touch helicopter parenting of an energetic young boy, rather than a truly troubled child. All of this also happens while their teenage daughter flirts with her tutor just up the stairs.
However, while the film’s plot generally portrays a struggle between rich and poor, it’s not so black and white as to call it a story of good versus evil. Yes, at first, it’s easy to loathe the Parks and sympathize with the apparent Robin Hood struggle of the Kim family, but as the film progresses, each family shows good, bad and ugly. Yes, the Kims are hard workers desperate to earn a living, but their exploitation of the Parks soon stretches to extreme limits. Yes, the Parks’ money has made them immorally ignorant of the greater world around them, but they also show kindness and trust to the Kims throughout the film. Joon-ho illustrates that no real conflict is ever so easy to pick sides.
“Parasite” explores a jumble of themes throughout the roughly two-hour runtime, but the stark divide between haves and have-nots is at the forefront. “Rich and poor” is not a novel theme, but Joon-ho and the cast display this struggle in such a unique, complicated light that the result is something fresh and worthy of viewing after viewing.