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Posted at: Jun 16, 2019, 2:29 AM; last updated: Jun 16, 2019, 2:29 AM (IST)

A nerve-wracking social satire

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a dark comedy about social inequality and poverty
A nerve-wracking social satire
A still from Parasite

Navnee Likhi

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s finely crafted film Parasite is a bizarre comedy, which tells the tale of a poor family trying to infiltrate into a rich household. In a funny, tender way, the 132-minute film portrays the stark reality of the world we live in. The story centres around an impoverished family of four — a dishevelled, disheartened Ki-taek, his snappy wife Chung-sook, their twenty plus son, Ki-woo, and daughter Ki-jung. The family, which is under debt, lives in a tiny cramped basement flat and earns a small amount of money by folding massive stacks of pizza boxes. The family scourges free wi-fi network from neighbouring cafes. 

The film begins with a visual of working class city in Seoul. Ki-woo and his family members scramble around squalid basement abode arguing to secure free and unprotected wi-fi to connect so that they can check messages on WhatsApp for potential job offers. As they get the network, they see a message from Ki-woo’s friend, who is moving to America. He suggests a tutoring job offer for Ki-woo with the wealthy Park family. Ki-woo’s friend loves Park’s daughter Dy-hye. In this arrangement, he feels she will remain safe with Ki-woo. As master scammers they hatch a plan to get their hands on the job. The following scenes unfold a social satire of absurd rituals and anxieties of the wealthy.  

Ki-woo had failed to clear the entrance exams of the university, even after four attempts. But with his sister’s help, Ki-woo makes a fake CV and visits the Park family. He is interviewed and gets the job. He starts tutoring Dy-hye, daughter of young corporate CEO Mr Park and his alluring, polished wife Yeon-Kyo. One by one, his family members play the same game and successfully infiltrate into the Park household. The humourous parade of their con jobs makes the film engaging. Mrs Park believes her younger hyper son is artistically inclined. When Ki-woo comes to know this,  he introduces his sister as American art teacher and insists that Mrs Park hire her. It doesn’t take long for the siblings to come up with ways to have Park family’s chauffeur fired and make place for his father to take up the job. The task of callously displacing the housekeeper proves to trickier but they successfully oust her and their mother takes her place. Soon the family has insinuated into life of another by adopting new identities and names. As they reach their cramped abode at night after work, their father Ki-taek says to the family, “If you put your salaries together, income coming from that family into ours is immense.” His wife replies, “Money erases wrinkles in life”. 

Ki-taek’s family is referred to as cockroaches, which serve as a metaphor to title of the film. The film reveals bold visuals of mean-spirited situations and spot on comic timing. The rainy night sequence of visuals when Ki-woo’s basement flat is flooded with rainwater and Park’s residence is safe as it is located on a hill show the cinematic finesse of the filmmaker. Ki-woo and his family see themselves in the mirror cruelly revealing to them how wretched they look in comparison to the Park family.

The characters are unsympathetic towards each other. Ki-woo flirts with Park’s daughter. Her brother Da-song is obsessed with native Americans and is overindulged by his parents. The actions of Ki-woo’s family are not justified but motivated by harsh economic realities. The two families lie on opposite ends of the scale. 

The hide and seek farce by Ki-taek’s family descends into terrible violence and bloodshed as a former servant of the family comes to know about Ki-woo’s plans. A member of the Park family is also killed. In an interview at Cannes, the director Bong Joon-ho had said, “The comedy in the film is without clowns and the tragedy is without villains”.

The performances are convincing. Ha-Jun Lee’s production design is excellent. Add to it Kyung-pyo Hong’s brilliant cinematography, which lends character to the film.

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