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Four for the Money: Parasite

Updated on February 16, 2020


The Kim family struggles to keep up with their bills. At the beginning of Parasite, the family of four spends their days in their apartment assembling pizza boxes for a nearby pizzeria. One evening, the Kim son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) meets his friend Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon) for drinks. There, Min, a student leaving to study elsewhere, tells Ki-woo he will recommend his friend for the tutoring job he is leaving. Min also gives his potential replacement a scholar's rock, believed to give its owner wealth. Even though both young men know Ki-woo doesn't have the qualifications for the position, Ki-woo turns to his sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) to create forged documents to supplement Min's word. As a result, Ki-woo gets a job teaching English to Park Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), the teenage daughter of Choi Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) and her architect husband Park Dong-ik "Nathan" (Lee Sun-kyun).

In talking with Yeon, Ki-woo learns that the couple also would like to find an art therapy teacher for their nine-year-old son, Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun). Ki-woo creates a fake backstory for his sister, then shares the story so she can create more fake papers and get the job. She then stages a sexual encounter between herself and the Park chauffeur Yoon (Park Geun-rok) that gets him dismissed and ultimately replaced by her father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho). He discovers the Park housekeeper, Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), who'd also served the previous homeowner and builder of the house, has a severe allergy to peaches. They set in motion a plan to make her allergy look much more serious. Moon's departure sets the stage for Ki-taek's wife, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), to become the new housekeeper. When the Park family goes on holiday, the Kim family uses the occasion to eat much and drink much of the generous provisions in the house. A sudden downpour, however, brings the Parks home early. As the Parks head home, the Kims also have to deal with an unannounced visit from Moon.


I don't know how the Korean word Gisaengchung literally translates to English, but the English title Parasite is a bit of a misnomer. The Parks unknowingly bring four con artists into their midst. The Kims convince their employers that they're not related, though Nathan notices their clothes smell of the same laundry detergent. Director and co-writer Bong Joon-ho, whose other films include Snowpiercer and Okja (both of which include Tilda Swinton), creates an engrossing and symbolic portrait of a quiet battle between the have and the have-nots. Among other things, Bong uses staircases to show the difference between the Parks and their staff. While the Parks are accepting of the help, Nathan, whose work is internationally known, seems a bit disdainful in his attitudes. He's also quick to judgment with both Moon and Yoon, who don't get to tell their side of the story in their incidents. While some bad things happen to the Kims throughout the movie, viewers will likely not sympathize too much with them. I can imagine that they've run cons before, including one here where Ki-jeong poses as a staffing agency employee to get her father his position. They seem to have the intelligence to do things right, but have probably burned many bridges by getting caught in wrongdoing.

The actors playing the Kims show how manipulative this family can be. Choi, as Ki-woo, is a smooth talker. In a dispute over pay from the pizzeria, he mediates so that they will still have the work. Later, he makes moves on the underaged Da-hye. Ms. Park combines forgery skills and confident speaking to make her seem like a teacher with a specialty. Song impresses as the Kim patriarch, a man who knows enough about luxury cars to form a bond with Nathan. He also puts hot sauce on a tissue Moon uses that looks like blood. Jang, as the Kim matriarch, holds her temper as long as people don't criticize her skill. Mr. Lee shows a man who thinks he can throw money at any issue, and is not very sympathetic to those who aren't his economic equal. Nathan reminds Mr. Kim he's getting paid extra to help stage a special show for Da-song. Cho and Ms. Lee do nicely as the movie's most sympathetic characters, who try and do what's right in any given situation. Moon also uses her knowledge of the home to keep a secret from everybody.


Parasite became the first non-English language picture to win the overall Oscar for Best Picture, as well as Best International Picture. Bong, who co-produced his film, also won Oscars for directing and screenwriting. Parasite, through its story, shows that too many places have created a huge income gap for which there is no simple solution, especially when the economically advantaged hold so much sway in decision making. People in both the Kim and the Park families could be considered parasites for the way they use people. The price they pay for their attitudes is usually intangible, but, nevertheless, very hurtful.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Parasite 3.5 stars. Money changes everything.

Parasite trailer

© 2020 Pat Mills


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