Though Bong Joon-Ho’s Korean cinematic masterpiece may have broken the glass ceiling of the Oscars with its nominations, it becomes important for another reason too- its acknowledgment of the class divide in the Asian community, and the reality of the rich and successful.
Note: Spoilers below. Proceed with caution.
Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite is making headlines with its numerous nominations at the Oscars, with the buzz of it becoming the first non-English language film to win the best picture. It’s perhaps hilariously ironic that Parasite is breaking the glass ceiling of the ‘White Academy Awards’ because it so beautifully weaves together a cinematic of just not ever breaking the glass ceiling of the wealth divide and the idea of an upstairs-downstairs life.
Perhaps an upstairs-downstairs life is what Parasite showcases the best- the very existence of the ‘semi-basement’ in which the Kims live in suggests a feeling of denial that the poor man often feels; “it’s a semi-basement after all, and not a basement” as though the house exists in state of middle, being under the ground but not believing that it is. It reflects a feeling that everyone who is trying to make it big but doesn’t have the means to has: hope.
The story opens with the Kim family hunting for WiFi while they fold pizza boxes, and letting the street fumigation disinfect their house from pests. None of them is employed, until the son, Kiwoo, bags a job at the Park residence tutoring their daughter. The Parks are the opposite of the Kim family- where the Kims live in a semi-basement apartment, the Parks have a huge, two-storey house with a garden. Their house represents what they are- over the ground, rich and successful- just like the Kims’ house represents what they are. The film proceeds with a montage of the Kim family taking over the Parks- Ki-Jung, the Kims’ daughter, becomes an art therapist to the Parks’ son, Chung-sook, the mother, becomes the housekeeper after they get rid of the Parks’ precious employee, and the father, Ki-Taek, becomes the Parks’ driver. It becomes a strange tug of war to feel bad for the Parks as the movie proceeds because the actions of the Kims are just that relatable, the Parks’ are just that ridiculously rich, and it is here that the question arises- what is a poor man exploiting a rich man exploiting a poor man?
Later in the movie, it is revealed that the Parks’ home has a secret basement, and the Parks’ precious housekeeper, Mun-Kwang had been keeping her husband there secretly. It is here in the scene where Mun-Kwang begs the Kim mother to let her husband stay there and to help them out because they’re their “neighbours in need”, where you see the denial of the Kims at accepting that they’re the same as Mun-Kwang and her husband. Both the families are leeching off the Parks, and yet in two different ways.
And yet still, this leeching is something that we’re sympathetic with because, throughout the entirety of the movie, we have seen Parks and their contribution to the class divide. It is in the way that Mr. Park thinks the Kim father smells- stinks– a certain way, the way all working-class people who take the subway smell. This distaste of Mr. Park is pointed out in various scenes with he acts towards the Kim father, and after he tells his wife of this ‘smell’, she also plugs her nose at him. This divide is seen in the way the two families interpreted the rains in the city- what devastated the Kims apartment and brought them and hundreds of other poor people out into the streets were showers to clear the sky for the Parks. Mr. Park doesn’t even let Mr. Kim feel upset about the devastating loss of all his belongings- to him, Mr. Kim should revel in the finery and celebrations of his son’s birthday, simply because he’s being paid.
The party scene of the movie is important for very many reasons. The first is the death of Ki-Jung, Kim’s daughter who gets stabbed by Mun-Kwang’s husband. While she’s stabbed, the Parks’ young son gets traumatised and has a seizure, and all of the Parks’ friends run away. They all have big cars, and yet Mr. Park demands only Mr. Kim, whose daughter is bleeding to death in his arms, to give up the car keys and drive his son to the hospital. One may argue that it’s because he simply does not know that Ki-Jung is Mr. Kim’s daughter. But one has to wonder why it is the servant who gets the responsibility of driving the Parks during the emergency while their friends run away and another person lays dying in front of them. This scene is important also because of Mr. Park’s reaction to Mun-Kwang’s dead husband; while Mr. Park’s son is in pain due to his seizures and two people dead in front of him, his only concern while fishing out the key from under the dead body is the layman’s ‘smell’, which is perhaps why we’re not as horrified to see him die later.
The penultimate shot of Parasite after Ki-woo vows to make enough money to buy the Park mansion and free his dad who is hiding in the secret basement is of Ki-woo hugging his father, as they stand in the garden, perhaps a symbolism of them finally being above ground, rich and successful. But then the movie ends with the camera panning down to the semi-basement where Ki-woo is still writing the letter. This ending is symbolic- everyone knows what the reality is. What Ki-woo wants will never happen, and it is in the end that we realise the real parasite was never the poor leeching off of the rich.
It was the hope leeching off of the poor.
Featured Image Credits: IMDb