Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019) review: What makes it an Oscar movie


Some call it a black comedy presented as a family drama, others a satire on the division of social classes. Just as so many modern folks are keen to stray away from labels, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019) masterfully creates a work of film that is innovative, yet familiar. With the introduction of a melodrama, the rising action of a thriller, the climax of a tragedy, and the falling action of a crime film, Parasite effortlessly merges an array of genres to create a novel experience, marked by clever twists and surprises, for its unsuspecting viewers.

SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen this film, please (with a cherry on top) do not read beyond this point!!
Gift yourself the experience of enjoying this legend of a movie. You deserve it.


To refresh some memories, the premise of the film goes like this: The Kims is a lower-class family—which consists of teenage son Kim Ki-woo, 20 something year-old daughter Kim Ki-jung, and their parents—living in a crowded and poorly furnished complex that is halfway underground. Their daily routine involves folding and selling pizza boxes, trying to use the WI-FI of the local coffee shop and witnessing the unsightly behaviors of a drunk man. The family’s fate takes a sharp turn when Kim Ki-woo’s friend recommends the teen to work as a tutor for the daughter of the affluent Park family.


In a series of perfectly executed plans, the Kims swiftly yet naturally immerse themselves into the Park household through a domino effect: Kim Ki-woo timely suggests “Jessica,” his sister Kim Ki-jung, to become the art teacher of the Park’s youngest child. “Jessica” then frames the Park’s personal driver into getting fired and recommends her father as a substitute. Ultimately, the Kims work together to get rid of the Park’s nanny, bringing mama Kim on board as the new one.


The Kims then enjoy a short-lived moment of peace before a startling revelation shatters their hopes of claiming the Parks' home as their own. It is revealed that the original nanny has been hiding her husband in a secret bunker under the house for the past four years.

Realizing that there exists even poorer people (both financially and socially) doing essentially what they are doing themselves, secretly feeding off of the rich as a means of survival, the Parks ironically attempt to fight against the two “outsiders” to protect their newfound life. This turn of events raises the question of whether individuals, regardless of their social status, can truly be generous to people from a more difficult position in the face of an event that threatens their own sense of stability. Yes, the Kims sympathize with the nanny and her husband, but this sympathy turns out to be insufficient for them to justify sacrificing themselves. Comparably, the Parks are friendly and compassionate with the Kims, but they become bitter and whiny when something as trivial as a bad smell disturbs their heaven of cleanliness.


From this perspective, it is interesting to note that Parasite does not paint the poor or the rich as caricatures of good and evil. Starting from the top, while the Parks are often negligent to the struggles of others and are ignorant to their privileges, they are not inherently bad people. As father Kim says, “the Park children’s mother is a kind and generous woman”, to which mother Kim notably replies, “If I were this rich, I would also be kind.” Just like the Kims, the Parks also value their family deeply and place a strong emphasis on educating their children. Nevertheless, behind this veil of perfection, the Parks can be seen as selfish because from the bottom of their hearts, they do not actually care about the poor and this becomes especially true when the impoverished pose a risk to their comfort.


Finally, a meaningful discussion of Parasite’s genius cannot be complete without examining the film’s use of visual imagery and metaphors. As previously mentioned, the Kims live halfway underground, seeing the outside world only through a small window. This aptly describes their status in the Park’s home and in society. While they spend one half of their life living literally in the shadows, the Kims spend the other half as shadows in the midst of a brighter life. Through this representation, one might say that the Kims are parasites regardless of where they are. Below the ground, they are parasites to society and above the ground, they are the Park family’s parasites.


That being said, we must not falsely assume that only the poor can be parasites. It is worthy to note that the director of the film once said in an interview that the movie would be better named “Parasites” with a “s”, since this more accurately represents the overarching message. After arriving at their home in this midst of a rainstorm, the Kims discover that their house has been nearly flooded to the ceiling and are forced to evacuate to a large space where they spend the night with hundreds of other affected people.


The next morning, waking up to a chaotic scene of people shouting and running around after the flood, each of the Kim members is (forcefully) invited to the Parks house for a party. The scenes then go back and forth between the genuine and desperate state of the Kims’ situation contrasted with the superficiality of the Park family’s picture perfect festivities.


Upon arriving to the Park’s home, father Kim overhears mother Park as she notes how lucky they are that it rained last night since the weather now is great for the party. At this point, the viewer is able to observe the subtle, yet visible change in father Kim’s expression as he realizes just how absurd and frivolous the rich can be.


Living on a hill that is physically elevated from where the lower class lives, the Park family's enjoyment trickles down into suffering as it reaches the bottom. To sustain such a luxurious lifestyle, these elites consume an excessive amount of resources at the expense of the poor and rely on the labor supplied from the lower end to survive, living as “expensive” parasites themselves. The injustice of this is what eventually leads to the climactic murder in the end, an event that was triggered by a simple gesture by father Park, which confirmed father Kim’s speculations about the rich’s true colors.


Personally speaking, what’s haunting of all to me is not the gruesome gory in the final scene or the parasitic nature of all the characters. Rather, it is the helplessness within Parasite’s portrayal of reality that makes it so shocking. Coming out of this movie, the average viewer will think more than usual and, hopefully, become more self-aware. However, because the film does not give a clear message of what we should do to solve the issues rooted in inequality, many of us will leave the theatre or turn off our screens and return to our daily lives unchanged in our actions. This does not mean that Parasite did not have an impact on us, but instead, that we have little means to truly change the way our parasitic world functions. Perhaps Bong Joon-ho wanted to showcase unjust suffering as a natural phenomenon and an inevitable result of a capitalist society, or perhaps he wanted to urge people to change the status quo, whether that is through politics or moral reform. Regardless, Parasite’s final scenes paint a grim picture of reality that, once again, reaffirms my suspicions about our helplessness. While there remains hope since all father Kim has to do is “come up the stairs” (climb the social ladder) when Kim Ki-woo “eventually makes it”, the improbability of either event happening exposes the most rigged game of them all: the game of life.