I first heard about the film “Parasite” from a friend during a game night last December. Myself and about ten others were in the middle of an intense game of “Codenames” when I saw her phone light up with a text message. Her eyes went wide, and she instantly started pulling on her coat and tying her shoes. While everyone started to question why she was leaving when our team was just about to break the code and win the entire game, she told us that she was seeing a movie with her friends, a movie that was supposed to be one of the best of the year.
As a movie lover myself, I asked her what the movie was, and she explained that the only thing she knew about the movie was the title and that her friends had warned her that she had to go into the movie without reading any information or reviews prior to viewing.
Later that night, extremely intrigued, I opened up my laptop and watched the trailer for “Parasite.” I was left confused but excited, and I knew this was the type of movie I needed to see. After a lot of convincing and telling my best friend that reading subtitles was a requirement, we decided to go to the Manor Theatre in Squirrel Hill on the 10 p.m. bus to catch the last showing of “Parasite” that night.
Watching “Parasite” in theaters was one of the best choices I’ve made. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that’s gripped me entirely from start to finish and had me asking at the end of each scene, “What will happen next?” It’s one of those rare movies that’s almost similar to looking at a piece of artwork. You know it’s beautifully put together upon first glance, but, the closer you look at it, the more you are able to see the details that were crucial in understanding and creating the bigger picture.
The movie is a South Korean foreign film, written and directed by the brilliant Bong Joon-ho. “Parasite” recently won four Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture Oscar, and made cinematic history with its phenomenal actors, creative visual storytelling and captivating cinematography. “Parasite” challenges the ideas of social class, ignorance and how far people will go to cover their true identity.
We follow the poor but street-smart, Kim family, as they slowly, one by one, work their way into working for the prestigious, rich and completely clueless Park family. Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), the son of the Kim family, is the first to make his way into working for the Park family after he takes up his friend’s offer of becoming an English tutor while his friend studies abroad. Ki-woo begins tutoring the Park’s eldest daughter. It’s not long until Ki-woo’s sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) works her way in as an art therapist for the Park’s son, the father (Song Kang-ho) of the Kim family works as the Park family’s driver and the mother (Jang Hye Jin) becomes the housekeeper and cook.
Watching the Kim family slowly work their way into the Park family’s flawless white home through manipulation, lying, cheating and setups is funny during the first act of the film, but, while watching, I couldn’t help but notice the underlying ominous tone to the movie.
We see gray, looming skies, silent and empty sloping streets near the Park home, weird behavior from the mother of the Park family (Cho Yeo-jeong), strange drawings from the boy Ki-jeong tutors of “ghosts” that he sees and a light shortage problem throughout the home, even though this family doesn’t seem to be lacking the money to fix it. Weird. In all of this makes sense and comes full circle by the end of the movie—if you pay close attention.
Halfway through the movie, things start to change and get very weird, very fast. The Parks decide to go away on a camping trip, allowing the entire Kim family to have the massive home to themselves. The Kims sit back and relax, eat, joke and drink together.
Then the doorbell rings. It’s the housekeeper, well, the ex-housekeeper, after the Kims drove her out. She’s back and reveals a secret underground basement entrance that’s inside the kitchen behind the shelves of food and alcohol. It turns out that her husband has been living down in the basement for years, even longer than the Park family had been living there, and she’s been sneaking food to give him ever since.
The housekeeper figures out that the Kim family is all related and has been responsible for her losing her job with the Park family. She threatens to tell their secret, so long as the Kim family keeps hers. Things get a little violent since the housekeeper’s husband is a little crazy. (I mean, what would you expect from someone who’s been living in a basement for several years?) The Kim family, the ex-housekeeper and the ex-housekeeper’s husband all get into a fight.
Then the Park family calls, they are coming home early from the camping trip due to the storm. The Kim family rushes to make the house look normal, the mother quickly cooks dinner before the Parks return, the rest of the family cleans and tries to keep the ex-housekeeper and her husband quiet (by knocking the ex-housekeeper unconscious and tying her husband up against his will). The Parks come home and are again unsuspecting and clueless.
Although the Kims were able to sneak out of another predicament they find out that their house has been completely flooded from the storm. They sit and wade through sewage, even human sewage, that floats around their home.
The next day, the entire Kim family seems to be on edge, especially the father. The mother of the Park family can’t stop gushing about how much of a blessing the rain had been for her perfectly manicured backyard, the father of the Park family (Lee Sun-kyun) keeps scrunching up his nose and telling the father of the Kim family that he smells weird.
It’s the day of the Park family’s son’s birthday, and nothing can go wrong, right? Wrong. Ki-woo decides to do away with the ex-housekeeper’s husband during the middle of the party, but needless to say, things go very wrong. The ex-housekeeper’s husband ends up escaping from Ki-woo and the basement. In a rampant craze, the ex-housekeeper’s husband interrupts the birthday party by killing Ki-jeong, Ki-woo’s sister.
During this part of the film, my best friend exited, claiming that she needed to go to the “bathroom,” but then started texting me asking me to tell her when the scene was over. I watched the scene before me with my hands over my face between peeks. (Let’s just say I don’t do well with blood). I have no idea what happened. All I know is a lot of people died, the Park family’s son ends up having a seizure and has to be rushed to the hospital, and the father of the Kim family ends up killing the father of the Park family in an attempt to save his daughter. Lots of blood, lots of violence.
The film slowly winds down, and we see how the Park family disappears, the house is put up for sale and the father of the Kim family hides out, just like the ex-housekeeper’s husband did, sending Morse code signals by controlling the lights in the basement. Ki-woo deciphers his father’s call for help and vows to one day buy the house and free his father. Will he ever do it? The end credits come up, I guess that’s up for us to decide.
By the end of “Parasite,” I realized I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding in, and I could finally stand up after being incredibly tense and glued to the screen during the final minutes of the final act. “Parasite” is a thriller that doesn’t have to rely on jump scares or cheesy overplayed tricks to truly keep you on edge. The tone and the ugly parasitic traits within the characters all leave you with an almost dirty, unsettling feeling by the end of the film, similar to watching a criminal steal something but not saying anything.
I’d overall recommend “Parasite” to anyone, especially after its well-deserved recognition at the Oscars, even if this movie isn’t the type of genre you’re used to watching. Look closely, and appreciate the beauty of the director’s eye and the story that continues to play on in your mind, long after the screen goes dark.