South Korean Film The Parasite Has Massive Opening in Korea


Just got back from watching South Korean film The Parasite.  It has been getting a lot of attention not only in Korea but all around the world.  The main reason for this is because the film won the Palme d-Or at Cannes.  The Palme d’Or is widely considered the world’s most prestigious award in the film industry.  Every year since 1946, the award is given to the best film at the festival.  This is the first time a Korean film has won the award.  The writer/director of The Parasite is Bong Joon-ho who directed critically acclaimed films such as The Host, Snowpiercer, and Okja.  The film was produced by CJ Entertainment.

Everywhere in Seoul, tickets were sold out quickly and even took over the top box office spot ahead of Disney’s Aladdin.  In addition, the film does a great job of addressing issues regarding class differences in South Korea.

Summary of South Korean film The Parasite

The story is about a poor South Korean Family.  How poor are they?  They steal wifi from neighbors, they fold pizza boxes for income, and they welcome free fumigation smoke from a government exterminator.  There is the son (Ki-woo), the father (Ki-taek), the mother (Chung-sook), and the daughter (Ki-jung).  One day Ki-woo gets a visit from a friend who is leaving to study abroad.  He asks Ki-woo to take over his English private tutoring position at the home of a rich Korean tech company president named Nathan Park.  In order to do this, Ki-woo counterfeits this diploma from Yonsei University with help from Ki-jung.  Once he becomes the tutor for Mr. Park’s daughter, he is able to convince Mrs. Park to hire Ki-jung to teach her son art.

Slowly Ki-woo’s whole family ends up working for the Park family without them realizing they are all related.  Therefore the poor family develops a parasitic relationship with the rich family.   Parasites and the Host can at times co-exist with each other.  For a while, this is what happens.  The poor family gets paid for performing such services as teaching, babysitting, cooking, cleaning, and driving.  Therefore, the Host benefits from these services for a while before the parasites grow and become deadly.

Class Differences in the Film

Cannes Film Winner The ParasiteThe film does a masterful job of addressing class differences in South Korea.  While South Korea has come a long way in terms of the economy and technology, there is a huge social wealth gap that is wider than ever.

Mr. Park’s house is very modern with plenty of space and sunlight.  It can be seen as “modern” Korea with its great economy, buildings, tech, infrastructure, and the world’s best internet speed.  However the house, much like Korea, has a secret.  Below the house are secret rooms, much like the bloody history of Korea.  Therefore, at any moment these secrets can show up and harm those living today.

Three distinct classes

The film represents three distinct classes.  The rich class is represented by Mr. Park’s family.  He is the CEO of a large tech company, has a beautiful home, rich friends, and expensive taste.  Much like many rich families, they care a lot about education.  Educating their kids so they can enter one of the top 3 Korean Universities (SKY – Seoul, Korea, Yonsei Universities).  Furthermore, they love western language and culture and look down at lower class citizens who use public transportation.  They can even smell what they consider the lower class.

Second, is the poor class represented by the Kim family.  All four members are unemployed and live in poor conditions.  In addition, they don’t have internet access and live in cramped spaces.  These conditions lead the poor to commit fraud, theft, and even murder.

Third, is the forgotten class.  These are the ones that want respect but is rarely heard.  They are the outcasts that do what they can to survive.  Many are criminals that are locked up or on the run.  They are waiting until the day they can be forgiven and return to society.

The Problems with Korea’s Class Structure

In South Korea, chaebols have a lot of power and influence.  Chaebols families have gotten a lot of free passes when it comes to their transgressions.  However, incidents such as the nut gate scandal with Korean Air’s chairman and other scandals of Korean company CEOs have caused Koreans to no longer stand for these kinds of spoiled behavior.  While the rich in Korea still look down to the poor, because of social media and independent press in Korea, they must be careful of what they do and say.  The films show this perfectly as Ki-taek’s hatred for Mr. Park slowly builds over time until Ki-taek takes matters into his own hands.

The Rich and Poor in Korea

The Film does a great job of representing the high society in Korea.  Rich Korean moms are looking to for the finest education for their children.  They spoil them every chance they get and many end up becoming spoiled.  In addition, the life of Mr. Park is a classic Korean CEO life.  A Korean executive would never drive his own car.  They leave most of the home affairs to the mother and is rarely home.  The poor family in The Parasite are a lot closer and have a strong family bond.  However, because they don’t have a steady source of income they resort to fraudulent activities.  Therefore, the gap is very noticeable and it is not shocking to see this gap in everyday life in Korea.  Many polices in South Korea have benefited the rich and the chaebols and hurt the everyday common worker.

As automation and AI continue to advance there will be many more without jobs and skills to survive in Korea.  What will happen to these them?  Will they follow in the footsteps of the Kim family?  What alternatives will there be?  If that is the case, the film is a great preview of what could go wrong in Korea in the coming years.