Around the Ben-d: Parasite movie review


By Ben Blakney, Reporter

This is part three of a nine-part entertainment review series by The Easterner. Ben Blakney, author of this article, is a reporter for The Easterner. His opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Easterner, its staff or Eastern Washington University.


You sure you want to move forward?

You suuuuure?

Alright. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Ahem.

“Parasite” is a darkly comedic, socially satirical film from accomplished writer and director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, Okja, The Host). Released on May 30, 2019 in South Korea, then October 5 of the same year in the USA, “Parasite” went on to win a litany of awards, including Academy Award for Best Picture.

As a student of film, I find myself constantly unable to turn off “filmmaker brain” while watching movies. Analysis of shots, scenery, dialogue and other narrative aspects are always smacking me in the face while I try to enjoy a good story. “Parasite” kidnaps filmmaker brain and holds it hostage for its 2 hour and 12 minute runtime. 

We are immediately dropped in on the Kim family; a brother, sister and their parents of less-than-ideal wealth. Ki-woo, the brother, has connections and friendship to collegiate Min-hyuk, an English tutor. Min-hyuk works for the Park family, a well-endowed and affluent family household. The film’s inciting incident occurs when Min-hyuk asks Ki-woo to tutor the Park’s eldest daughter, Da-hye, while he is abroad. Shortly after, Min-hyuk stops in on the Kim’s dinner and presents them a gift: a scholar’s rock. A gift of Min-hyuk’s grandfathers, the scholar’s rock is prophesied to bring good wealth (something the Kim’s could definitely benefit from). With the gift of the scholar’s rock, Ki-woo forges his way into the Park household.

As Ki-woo (referred to as “Kevin” in the Park household) begins his teachings, he realizes the oblivity of the matriarch of the Park household. Through this oblivity, Ki-woo is able to deceive the Park family into hiring his entire family as various talented — yet completely unrelated — houseworkers. 

Ki-woo’s sister, Ki-jung is onboarded (codename “Jessica”, a friend from Chicago) as an art therapist for the Park’s hyperactive son, Da-song. Ki-jung, the one who created Ki-woo’s forged college documents, is rather sly and cunning. She uses these skills to frame the Park’s chauffeur into termination, paving the road for their father Ki-taek to take over as the family’s driver. 

Finally, the three Kims (disguised, so the Parks won’t be able to tell they’re related) take advantage of the health of the Park’s housekeeper Moon-gwang, falsifying a case of tuberculosis. The oblivious matriarch and her married-for-business husband both agree they cannot have a case of TB around their young son, and terminate Moon-gwang’s position immediately. Now, the void left by Moon-gwang can be filled by the final member of the Kim entourage, Chung-sook. The Kim’s have now officially infiltrated the Park household, and are climbing their own bootleg ladder in escape from their destitute semi-basement apartment.

After the Kims have stormed the Park castle, they make efforts to disguise their related identities. Because of Da-songs upcoming birthday, the Park’s take him camping as a family, leaving the house for upwards of a week. For context, Da-song is in poor health. During one of his previous birthdays, Da-song had an encounter with a ghost from the basement, and now suffers from grand-mal seizures. Thanks to this trauma, the Park’s now only celebrate Da-song’s birthdays outdoors.

With the Park nest left empty, the Kims all live in parasitic luxury in the Park’s home. Drinking, celebrating and generally disrespecting, the Kims are eating up their new access to luxury and applaud their excellent charade. 

However, the peace is shattered when the doorbell rings.

At the door is Moon-gwang, the previous housekeeper. She’s simply requesting she be let in to retrieve something from the basement. She was rushed out in a flurry, after all.

Chung-sook tentatively allows Moon-gwang entry, while the remaining Kims hide out of sight in the living room. Moon-gwang disappears into the basement. After some time, Chung-sook descends into the ominous food storage basement, to find Moon-gwang struggling to open the door to a secret underground bunker. 

This is where the film completely switches gears. And maybe, you might want to pause on this review and watch the movie, if you don’t want the events potentially spoiled. It’s on Hulu!

Chung-sook secretly follows Moon-gwang into the depths of the bunker, to find the housekeeper’s husband Geun-sae, hiding from loan sharks. Chung-sook is appalled to discover this, threatening to report Moon-gwang to the Parks.

Moving back, the remaining Kims are curious as to where Chung-sook and Moon-gwang have been for so long. They go down to the basement to discover the open door. 

The remaining Kims also descend into the hidden bunker.

Flashforward, Chung-sook’s interrogation is interrupted by the remaining Kims falling into a crumpled heap behind her. You can cut the tension with a knife in this scene. Moon-gwang nabs Chung-sooks cellphone and records Ki-woo referring to Ki-taek as father. The ruse is shattered on digital video.

After this standoff, the Kims head back upstairs to a ringing phone. Moon-gwang and Geun-sae are at this point, trapped in the bunker.

On the other end of the phone are the Parks.

On their way home.

Within ten minutes.

The Kims narrowly escape their employers home, and return to their (now flooded) apartment. The Kims spend the night in a gymnasium, filled with other displaced persons.

Joon Ho’s narrative comes to its peak the next day, at Da-song’s outdoor backyard birthday. Ki-woo takes the scholar’s rock to face Geun-sae, to no avail. Geun-sae, gone stark-crazy and filled with rage, makes his way upstairs to the outdoor party. It’s revealed that the “ghost” Da-song saw years ago, was Geun-sae emerging eerily from the basement. This prompts another Da-song seizure. 

During this seizure, Geun-sae stabs Ki-jung in the chest as revenge for threatening his wife, and Geun-sae perishes at the hands of Chung-sook’s barbeque stake. Amidst this nightmare, Mr. Park demands Ki-taek’s chauffeur character to drive Da-song to the hospital, citing only minutes to act.

Then, an extra layer is presented.

At this moment, Mr. Park’s rich and affluent nose causes him to retch at the “poor” scent on Ki-taek’s clothes, a scent shared amongst all the Kim parasites. Ki-taek notices this intense judgement from Mr. Park.

This was the final straw for Ki-taek, as he stabs Mr. Park in the chest.

The film wraps up efficiently, weeks later. We return on Ki-woo’s recovery from brain surgery after Geun-sae attacked him at the party. Ki-jung is dead. Ki-taek is missing. The Parks have moved on, their home sold to an unaware German family.

“Parasite” is far and away one of the best films I’ve seen all year. I can’t recommend it enough.

The film makes many commentaries on class structure. If you’re like me, who flew blindly into “Parasite”, you may have pondered the obscure title: The Kims and the Parks exist symbiotically. The Parks refuse to live without lavish house employees, and the Kims are willing to literally deceive their employers to death for money. The Kims are parasites that, without a nutrient-rich host, will die.

Like I mentioned earlier, the cinematography of this film is incredible, specifically when Chung-sook is on the phone with the approaching Parks. 

The Parks ask Chung-sook to make Ram-don, which is a combination of two instant Korean noodles. It is also Da-song’s favorite. Mrs. Park also mentions, “If you boil the water now, the timing would be perfect. There’s some sirloin in the fridge, add that too.” Chung-sook’s housekeeper facade complies with her boss’ request, but on-screen we see animalistic Chung-sook’s horror as she realizes the gravity of the scenario.

As soon as Chung-sook hangs up the phone, she delivers the line, “What the hell is Ram-don?”

Ram-don serves as one of the central metaphors in “Parasite”. The Parks take top-of-the-line Korean sirloin, an easily $100+ USD equivalent serving of meat, and pair it with a combination of instant noodles no cheaper than Maruchan Ramen. This dish illustrates the classist divide between the Parks and the Kims in such a visceral way that even after three viewings, it still gives me chills.

The filmic stylings such as these completely encapsulate the viewer. “Parasite” yanks the audience into the action, especially when they would much prefer against it.

“Parasite” received a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as The Academy Awards for: Best Picture, Best International Feature, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. “Parasite” also received the Palme d’Or award, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance Cast in a Motion Picture. 

Do yourself a favor. Watch “Parasite”. “Parasite” is a film that greatly benefits from close reading and keen observation. Its rapid pace and unexpected twists make for a very re-watchable piece, and I know I’ve got plenty of time at-home now to mull over its numerous details.