|One might wonder during the beginning of Parasite if the title is a loose translation from a Korean word which doesn’t have a direct English counterpart. The Oxford English Dictionary offers two definitions of parasite: “1. An organism that lives in or on an organism of another species (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other's expense; 2. A person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return.” Not too long later, it’s clear that writer-director Bong Joon Ho meant the exact title he chose and Anglophones can assume nothing is lost in translation.||2019 |
Directed by: Bong Joon Ho
Screenplay by: Han Jin Won, Bong Joon Ho
Starring: Woo-sik Choi, Kang-ho Song
Our parasites, also quite possibly depending on your sympathies - our heroes, are a family of four living in a squalid basement apartment in the slums of South Korea. The college-aged son and teenage daughter Ki-woo and Ki-Jun (who give themselves English names Kevin and Jessica) have their own skills but have yet to lift their family above poverty, in thanks to their parents’ laziness and incompetence borne from a lifetime of failures.
Ki-woo dreams of college and the affluence which that can lead to. He idolizes his friend who does attend college and works as an English tutor. That friendship results in an English tutoring job for Kevin. His friend warns him that the family is strange, but Kevin is mesmerized by this new world he has just entered. The house was built by a rich, successful architect, a beauty of a home, nestled on a hill, surrounded by nature and a short walk from the pleasantness of a rich South Korean neighbourhood. The house is currently occupied by a family of four and their dutiful servants. Mr. Park is always at work; Mrs. Park does nothing as managing her family and hiring servants to do everything for her is a full-time job.
Ki-woo is hired to be Da-Hye’s tutor. She’s a few years younger than Kevin and hopeless at learning English – because, as it’s quickly revealed – she has a tendency of falling in love with her English tutors. Ki-woo has fallen in love with the world of the rich and the house they live in. Ki-woo is smart, quick on his feet, and thinks it’s important to make plans, and back-up plans, even if they lead nowhere because the next plan might work. His long-term plan: own that house. His short-term plan: make money and exploit the cluelessness of Mrs. Park.
That is just the beginning of act 1 that I have described. For other films, act 1 would be the whole movie. But “Parasite” is on a whole different playing field. It’s daring, inventive and takes its themes of class-division and exploitation to places few could imagine. The title could arguably apply to every single person in the movie. And a key point about a biological parasite is that its host is left worse-off – this is also true of every single character in the movie. Although these points can be argued, as it all depends on the viewer’s values and personal ethics.
In Parasite the main values are family and wealth and there are no ethical considerations. And that’s what makes it such a challenging film. It’s hard to watch but you can’t look away.