Parasite surprises the academy
Updated: Mar 18
The 92nd Academy Awards were broadcast at 2:30 AM here in Kuwait. I made all my efforts to stay up until that time. I brewed a pot of coffee and waited restlessly in front of the TV. It was 2:00 and there was only 30 minutes left until the opening ceremony but alas, I was fast asleep with a cold pot of coffee by my side.
Although I missed the excitement of watching the Oscars live, waking up the next morning and reading the results online was nothing short of enthralling. The coveted best picture award went to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his film "Parasite" and although I vaguely remember watching an unusual film of his about a girl and her relationship with a genetically modified pig on Netflix Okja(2017) I embarrassingly was not familiar with Bong Joon-ho.
Luckily a friend uploaded Parasite (2019) onto his Plex streaming library which he kindly shared with me and I had a chance to watch it. The film starts with the Kim family rummaging through their semi-basement apartment searching for a free wifi signal. Semi basement, you ask?
Urban basements were originally built in 1970 when the South Korean government mandated the construction of them in response to Nuclear threats from the North. At first, they were not meant to be lived in but only as a fall out shelter. As the city's population swelled in line with the country's rapid industrialization regulations were relaxed allowing semi basements to be lived in. They are usually inhabited by the poor and working class.
The Kim family is just such a family. They get by folding pizza boxes and various odd jobs. One day Ki-woo (the Kim family son) is offered a job replacing his friend Min-hyuk a university student who tutors Da-hye the daughter of a wealthy family (the Parks). Ki-woo forges his credentials and takes over the tutoring job at the Park family house. While at the Park's mansion he suggests Ki jung his sister as an "art therapist" for the Parks restless son Da-song to Mrs. Park. In turn Ki-jung manages to replace the Park chauffeur with her father (Ki-taek) by framing the chauffeur of "crossing the line" while on duty. Ki-taek then recommends his wife Park Chung-sook as house keeper after Kim Ki-jung vindictively sets off the current house keeper Park Moon-gwang's peach allergy and convinces Mrs. Park that she has tuberculosis leading to her being fired.
One by one each member of the Kim family sneak their way into positions at the Park family mansion, exploiting them for their wealth giving the film's title "Parasite" poignant meaning.
One stormy night while the Parks are away, on their way to a camping trip the Kims are enjoying the luxury of their new misappropriated dwelling. The Kims drink and laugh at how they managed to trick the Parks into employing every one of them when Park Moon-gwang, the ex-house keeper rings the bell and reveals a secret underground bunker in the Park mansion where her husband has been living for years. Park Moon-gwang attempts to keep the secret from the Parks by appealing to Park Chung-sook “house keeper to house house keeper” she refuses and a fight ensues when the rest of the Kims collapse into the basement and are revealed to all be related giving Park Moon-gwang the upper hand. She records the Kims while struggling on the floor and calling Ki-taek “Dad” Park Moon-gwang threatens to send the video to Mrs. Park until the Kims overpower Park Moon-gwang and her husband
managing to lock them both in the basement before the Parks arrive from the canceled camping trip (canceled due to a rainstorm)
The Kims rush back home during the rainstorm to find their semi-basement home flooded. The Kims and all their neighbors are forced to spend the night at a public gym. While there they are all invited to a garden party at the Park mansion in honor of their son. This party ends in an orgy of violence when Park Moon-gwang‘a husband breaks free from the basement and goes on a killing spree inciting Ki-taek to stab Mr. Park finally fed up with the indignity of entertaining the Parks and being scorned for his “basement smell”
Parasite sheds light on the struggle between the haves and the have nots in Korea while being entertaining. Space was expertly used in the cinematography of this film. The Parks lived on a hill with a beautiful view of their garden while the Kims lived in a basement with a view of drunkards urinating on their window. The divide in society is clear. Parasite highlighted the plight of basement apartment inhabitants and even lead to the Korean government to take steps towards improving the living standards of these apartments.
Parasite made history as the first foreign language film ever to win the oscar for best picture and could be a sign of the ever changing world of film. I look forward to an all-encompassing academy awards where you don't necessarily have to be sidelined as a foreign film if your production isn't in english. The definition of foreign is something strange and unfamiliar which in itself is offensive. Parasite transcends language and race, it's simply a masterpiece of cinema. Now is the time to produce your next film whether it’s in Arabic or any other language, the world is yours.