If you haven’t seen Parasite yet, don’t worry. You won’t find any spoilers here. Promise.
Art house cinemas all over the country are full of ordinary people desperate to watch a South Korean dark comedy thriller film called Parasite.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho, who Quentin Tarantino has likened to Steven Spielberg in his prime, Parasite won four Academy Awards this week, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film.
Set in South Korea, the film opens on the Kim family, who live in a small basement apartment, working low-paying and temporary jobs. Made up of father Kim Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, son Ki-woo and daughter Ki-jeong, the Kim family sit cross-legged on the floor, folding pizza boxes in a desperate effort to make ends meet.
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That is until Ki-woo’s friend offers him a job.
The wealthy Park family – made up of a mother, father, a son and a daughter, require an English tutor. And after a strange but successful interview, Ki-woo gets the job.
As a young man, maybe 18 or so, Ki-woo is subject to a world he has never seen. The fridge is always stocked, the Park home was designed by a famous Japanese architect, and the family have more money than they know what to do with.
That’s when he comes up with a plan. Posing as sophisticated and skilled workers, unrelated to one another, the Kim family slowly overtake the service roles in the Park home.
First, daughter Ki-jeong poses as an art teacher, a perfect tutor for the Park’s son.
Then, father Ki-taek is hired as a chauffeur before his wife, Chung-sook replaces the housekeeper.
Suddenly, they are two families largely occupying the same home, one rich, and one poor. One family gives the orders while the other obeys them.
Laced with dark comedy and a stunning allegory that you’ll be thinking about for months to come, the ‘parasite’ in the film is not what the audience expects.
As the tension escalates, Parasite is peppered with twists and unexpected subplots, culminating in an ending that provides a profound commentary on capitalism and class structure.
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While it might sound like hard work, Bong’s film doesn’t feel like it. The audience laughs as much as they gasp. It’s the dry sense of humour underlying the entire script that’s perhaps the greatest delight of all.
The South Korean film industry is soaring in popularity, along with South Korean culture more broadly, like K-pop, K-beauty and K-drama.
South Korea currently sits at an interesting historical crossroads. As is the case in much of the Western world, the disparity between rich and poor continues to grow, with the capitalist influence of the United States intersecting with a culture that just 40 years ago was stifled by censorship.
With the international success of Parasite it is likely we will be seeing a great deal more Korean cinema. Subtitles, as we all well know, become somewhat invisible after the first five minutes, and a brilliant story has universal appeal.
While the world chattered about Parasite’s Oscars potential, Bong wasn’t fussed.
“The Oscars are not an international film festival,” he told Vulture. “They’re very local.”
An award, after all, is not the measure of a brilliant film.
Rather, the capacity to challenge how people think, start a global conversation, and leave an audience with an ending that will stay with them long after awards season, is far more monumental than a gold, three kilogram trophy.
Parasite is out now in selected Australian cinemas.