Parasite – A Modern Classic


Olivia Barry, Author

On February 9, 2020, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite made history as the first foreign film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture; needless to say, it was well deserved. There has not been a single moment that I haven’t thought about this movie since I first saw it this past November. Every frame, every word has stuck with me, worming its way into my brain like, well, a parasite. Now, whenever anyone asks for a movie recommendation, the first film that slips out of my mouth is, “Parasite.

However, despite the glowing reviews the film has been receiving, Parasite has been met with apprehension from general American audiences. Their most common complaint? Parasite isn’t in English. To the disdain of many English-speaking viewers, Parasite is entirely in Korean. Although the film is subtitled, many have stuck up their noses at the film, claiming that reading subtitles is too much exertion. One anonymous Academy Awards voter even suggested that Parasite shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Picture with the “regular films” because it wasn’t American.

While people who are apprehensive about Parasite because it isn’t in English are in the minority, they represent a growing problem within the film industry: xenophobia. Film executives, reviewers, and moviegoers are not willing to watch stories that do not represent the American standard – white, English-speaking, and preferably male. However, it’s audiences like these that destroy the beauty of film. At its core, film is meant to be a mode of communication that breaks down barriers and allows viewers to experience all walks of life, regardless of race, gender, or language.

Parasite certainly transcends said language barriers. It offers a take on the human condition that speaks to those most marginalized. While it may not be in English, it’s still worth the watch; Parasite‘s message is far-reaching, and is powerful enough to touch each one of its viewers, if only they are willing to bow down to subtitles.

Ever since my first viewing of the film, Parasite‘s overarching message about inequitable wealth distribution and the disdain for the lower class has stuck with me, leeching off my brain and occupying any vacancies in my brain. Parasite follows the story of a poor Korean family, the Kims, as they find work with one of the richest families in town, the Parks. From there, the film takes an abrupt turn, spiraling into chaos as the Kim’s discover that their time at the Park residence is not as decadent as they first believed it to be.

Director Bong Joon-ho carefully crafts a visual world where nearly everything in the film – from the windows in the Kim family’s apartment, to the Park family’s dogs, to the American-made teepee the youngest Park, Da-song, camps out in – gives meaning to the film’s message. The film is rich with subtle imagery, making subsequent rewatches of the film all the more interesting. Not to mention, the script is also filled with subtle nods to the film’s message – count the number of times the word “plan” is used before the film’s climax.

Bong Joon-Ho’s script is not only clever, but realistic. Both the Kims and the Parks feel like fully realized humans. Their interactions are organic; the Kim family especially, whose constant bickering and underlying affection feel familiar. This is due, in part, to the excellent cast. Although Parasite did not receive any nominations this awards season for its acting, the performances given in Parasite are incredible. 28-year-old actress Park So-dam gives one of my favorite performances of the year as Ki-jeong, the spunky daughter of the Kim family, who gets hired as an art therapist to the Park’s youngest child. Her comedic timing is impeccable; So-dam delivers the majority of the jokes in Parasite’s run-time with finesse. Actor Kang-ho Song also delivers an excellent performance as Kim Ki-taek, the father of the Kim family. He manages to deliver the heaviest performance of the film with ease, while still partaking in one of the funniest scenes in film of the past decade – the set-up to get the Park’s housekeeper fired.

Through their outstanding storytelling, Bong Joon-ho, the cast, and the crew of Parasite have created a modern classic. Its story is so rich; there are still so many underlying messages yet to be found in its script and cinematography. Even in twenty years, upon my umpteenth rewatch of the film, the question, “Who is the true parasite?” will still be at the forefront of my mind.