“Parasite,”film directed by Bong Joon-Ho, 2019
This comedic horror film has a large buzz going for it. It is similar to “Get Out” and Boots Riley's "Sorry to Bother You," as the villains are all upper-class people. Here a South Korean family in Seoul, the Kims – father, mother, older son and daughter - work at folding pizza boxes to make a living. Their living is so sad they try to negotiate with the young pizza store manager for a higher piece rate. The four of them live in a crowded basement apartment and none of them has any other job. None of them has a higher education and seem clueless about how to improve their situation. They can’t even fold the boxes properly.
|Class in South Korea|
But the tide turns as a rich friend who teaches English to a girl from a wealthy family, the Parks, offers his job temporarily to the son, Ki-woo. The Parks are a typical upper-middle class family – a beautiful modern house designed by a top architect; a young neurotic wife who has no skills except shopping; a bored daughter; a spoiled little boy who has the run of the house and the corporate father, smug and aloof. He doesn’t want anyone to ‘cross any lines.’
The class system is very apparent, unlike most films. The South Korean working-class and the noveau-riche upper classes have had little in common since the founding of South Korea. So in the film we already detest the Parks and their damn house, which becomes a symbol of the difference between classes. In one terrible scene, the Kim’s basement apartment is flooded by heavy rains, wrecking everything, and the Parks are completely oblivious to what happened to them. The Park’s house did not get a drop and this is certainly a parable of climate change. Even odor plays a role. The Kim family has a stale and unpleasant ‘smell’ that is noticed by the Parks, who do not live in a moldy basement penetrated with cooking smells. The Kims have to discuss using different soaps to hide their family identity. So far, so good as a class –conscious film.
Eventually the whole Kim family get jobs with the Parks – the uneducated daughter as an ‘art therapist’ to the spoiled son, the unmotivated father as an excellent chauffeur, the quiet mother as a versatile, sophisticated cook. To do this they hide their family relationship and push out the staff who already work for the Parks through clever tricks. All of a sudden the somewhat buffoonish family is absolutely excellent at everything they do, including their deceptions. Even not looking while driving is a skill the father has mastered.
So who are the parasites? In Marxism, the upper-classes are parasites on the working-classes, as the latter do all the work which is then partially appropriated by the rich through profits and surplus value or interest and dividends. But in this film it seems the workers are parasites, duping the Parks while getting prior workers fired, acting like fleas on a dog. Yet the Kims still do all the work for the Parks as part of the servant economy! We can marvel at their sudden cleverness but at the same time they’ve shown zero class solidarity, just a desperation foisted on them by living in a capitalist system. Dog eat dog; worker eat worker. But they do outsmart the Parks, especially the befuddled wife. That is the main source of the humor.
Of course then the story takes an odd twist. After the Park’s go on a camping trip, the Kim’s engage in a celebratory night of drunken partying in the Park’s glass and steel house. Suddenly they are not so smart. They do not anticipate the Park’s returning early. They make another ‘small mistake’ by letting the former housekeeper they replaced into the house, as she has somehow forgotten some of her personal stuff in the basement. And here it becomes not a real story of class conflict, but a tense horror show.
I won’t describe the rest of the film except to say that it further reflects the desperation brought about by the South Korean class structure, which damages both workers and the rich into acting in abominable and bloody ways. As an example, South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world for persons under 40. Analysts report that their internet use has atomized the whole population. As would be predicted, in this film the Kim family end up in an even worse position, giving the notion of ‘notes from the underground’ a new meaning. The creepy last act left me thinking this film failed in its potential and went for a cheap, sensationalist ending, transitioning from believable to unbelievable and in that, pulling its final punch.
Many other films are reviewed below from a left point of view. Use the blog search box in the upper left with the words ‘film’ or ‘television’ or ‘movie.’ The film “Get Out” is reviewed. Also the book "The Servant Economy."
The Kulture Kommissar
November 18, 2019