“Parasite” is a South Korean film directed by Bong Joon Ho and produced by Kwak Sin-ae. This film won 4 Academy Awards from the Oscars 2020, including Best Picture, Best Writing, Best Directing and International Feature Film. It was a historical moment, as it was the first film from South Korea to win not only one, but 4,Academy Awards. Furthermore, Parasite took home the most Awards that night! It was also the first non-English film to win the Best Picture award. But what is the film Parasite about, and what makes the film so remarkable that it achieved so much? 


In the film, the Kim family lives in small semi-basement in South Korea. They are destitute, and make money from folding pizza boxes. However, the Kims have different qualities, and talents that, later on, help them infiltrate    the Parks' house using guileful methods, and imposing as individual workers, (English tutor, housekeeper, art therapist and driver), that vaguely know each other. It all starts, when a friend of Ki-woo, (son of the Kim family), asks Ki-woo to help take over, and tutor the daughter of the Parks. In contrast to the Kim family, the Parks are affluent and live in a mansion that was built by a “famous Korean-French architect”. Most of the rooms in the mansion are bigger than the Kims’ whole house, showing how different they are, especially in terms of social class. Parasite highlights the very real inequality in modern day society and brings up the question of who are the parasites in this world? Is it the lower class, that feeds off the wealth of the upper class? Or, is it the upper class, using the labour of the lower class? Bong Joon Ho doesn’t clearly label the characters as the villains or the heroes, therefore the film is open to interpretation and discussion. In this piece of writing, I will discuss the parasitic relationship between the rich and the poor families, and see who are the real parasites in Parasite?


A parasite is scientifically defined as an organism that lives in or on another host organism, and survives  and benefits at the host’s expense. Parasites can harm and sometimes even kill their hosts. Many people, after watching the film, will think that the Kim family are evidently the parasites, since they disguise themselves when working at the Parks' house, and soon the whole family becomes financially dependent on the Park family. The Kims are also metaphorically similar to parasites, for example, when a parasitic worm enters the body it uses up resources, and sometimes even brings in other pathogens, which mirrors when the Kim family,one by one, infiltrate    the mansion, and each manage bring in another family member. This is also corresponding to the Trojan Horse story, of how the Greek soldiers invaded the city of Troy, by hiding in a massive wooden horse, that was supposed to be an offering to the Goddess, and pretending to be something it’s not , like how Ki-Jung (daughter of the Kim family) pretends to be an art student, who studied in “Illinois Chicago”, in order to be an art tutor and art therapist for the son of the Park family. Furthermore, a parasite can change its host’s behavior through manipulation for the benefit of its own. This can be reflected in what happens when the friend of Ki-woo tells him says that Yeon-kyo (mother of the Park family) is “simple”, which therefore    causes the Kims to skillfully exploit    Yeon-kyo’s naivety. For instance, they take advantage of the Parks' housekeeper Moon-gwang's allergy to peaches, and craft a detailed plan to make the housekeeper look like she has tuberculosis. They managed to make Mrs. Park believe it, and the housekeeper was fired, therefore this leads to Chung-sook, mother of the Kim family, replacing her and taking over    her job as a housekeeper. At one point in the film, the Kims take full advantage of the mansion, and act as if it’s their house, when the Park family go on a camping trip for their son’s birthday : Ki-Jung uses the bath tub, Ki-woo lays on the bed, and the whole family sits in the living room, recklessly eating and drinking the Parks' stuff. This highlights all the Kim family’s parasitic behaviours, which would cause most of the audience to believe that they are the parasites; however, they do this in order to survive in this harsh world. The Kim family are so poor, that they have to live in semi-basement, that only has one strip of window. Moreover, the highest point in their house is the toilet, which highlights that they are both financially and physically low in society. Although that doesn’t justify all their wrongdoing,     it does allow the audience to feel empathetic and be understanding, just like the director said, “In the midst of such a world, who can point their fingers at a struggling family, and call them parasites?”


The Park family represent the small minority of the most privileged people, who are at the top of the class pyramid, in modern society. The Park family are no doubt very affluent and successful, but did all their success come from their hard work and dedication, like what the American Dream promotes? And, can the upper classes survive without the lower class? In the past few months or even weeks, life has drastically changed for many people in the world due to COVID-19. Many people have lost their jobs permanently or temporarily, or they are working from home. Loads of countries around the world have told their citizens to stay at home to prevent the further spread of the virus, however, key workers still have to go out and work. This pandemic has highlighted who the most essential and vital workers are, these include, not only health care workers, but also supermarket workers, teachers, delivery drivers, garbage collectors and cleaners. Most of these workers are part of the middle class or lower class, jobs like cleaners and garbage collectors are viewed by society as low-skilled, and jobs that deserve to be paid the very minimal. People in these sectors are often looked down upon and considered unimportant, but these jobs are, ironically, the jobs that are keeping society ordered, and helping people survive through this pandemic. These jobs are also reflected in the movie, for example, the father of the Kim family work as a driver for the Parks, and the mother work as a housekeeper for the Parks. In the film, we can see that without one of these workers, the Park family becomes disordered and dysfunctional. For example, after the housekeeper was fired, Mrs. Park struggles to keep the house tidy and do housework. Mr. Park also acknowledges this when he says, “the house will descend into chaos. I guarantee she won’t be able to survive a week without one… Mrs. Park definitely wins the worst housemaker award. Doesn’t know her way around a vacuum, and her cooking is just –abysmal!” This highlights the Parks’ parasitism because without the hard work and labour from the lower class they can’t survive just like in the society, without the mental and physical toil and work from the hundreds and thousands of workers and employees, billionaires wouldn’t exist. The Park family are physically visible, but their parasitic behaviour is not, because it’s hidden. Many rich people hide under capitalist schemes, such as the American Dream, an ideal which says that anyone can achieve their highest aspirations and goals if they work hard enough, regardless of their social class or background. However, this ideal is flawed because of many reasons, such as racial issues, especially in Western countries where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. This is emphasised at the end of the film, despite working hard and having detailed plans the Kim family still end up in the semi-basement, or even lower.


However, many people would argue that because the Parks pay their workers for their labour so they are not the parasites, which is reasonable point since Ki-woo (son of the Kim family) after the first the English lesson is paid with a “thick money envelope” from Mrs. Park, and she even gave him a “little bit more” than what the previous English tutor got. Furthermore, Ki-woo even tell his sister that Mrs. Park gave a “good” amount of money and that she is a “nice” person. In the film, the Park family treats their workers fairly well, and Mr. Kim even says that Mrs. Park is, “a rich person who’s also kindhearted”. However, Chung Sook (mother of the Kim family) doesn’t totally agree because she intervenes, and says that Mrs. Park is “kindhearted because she’s rich”, and if she had “all this [money]” her heart would be “overflowing with kindness”. This suggests that Chung Sook knows that what her and her family is doing is not the most nice and considerate, but they do it because they are destitute. Moreover, this highlights that the Kim family knows the difference between right and wrong, and they do these actions that would potentially harm others in order to protect themselves and survive. Often in society, the lower class are forced to compete with other lower-class people or do things that would be seen as immoral. For instance, a person may steal from a shop for food not because they enjoy doing it, but because they are poor and starving, most people would feel empathy and understand where that person is coming from. The Kim family has done a considerable amount of unkind actions but possibly feel remorse. But what about the Park family? Have they done anything that is cruel and harmful, and is the Park family really as “kindhearted” as they seem? In particular points in the film, we see glimpse of the Parks’ other side, or even their true side. For example, Mr. Park has this peculiar rule about people, in particular his workers, not “crossing the line”. He repeatedly talks about this “line”, and he praises people, such as the previous housekeeper, who doesn’t cross that line. He becomes irritated and paranoid when people attempt to cross that line, or even get close to that line. For example, he continuously talks about how the “smell” of Mr. Kim “crosses the line”. When he tells his wife about it, Mrs. Park, asks if it’s a “poor people smell”. Smell is sign of social class and status, it’s not like clothes where you can change what you are wearing to look a certain way, because smell is something that is hard to get rid off. If you stay in an environment or place for a long period of time you will have the smell of that place. This is emphasised in the film when then son of the Parks’ says that all the workers, which are all the members of the Kim family, smell the “same”, and also when Mr. Park says that “subway commuters” have an “unique smell”. This suggests that they think that poor people have a distinctive smell that helps you identify them, even if they try and disguise themselves. For centuries, smelling good have been very important to people, for example in the popular nursery rhyme “Ring Around The Rosie”, which is thought to be about the Black Plague (a deadly disease that killed many people during the 14th century), there’s a line in the rhyme that says, “a pocket full of posies”, referring to people carrying a good smelling scent in order not seem like they are sick. Even during an extremely fatal disease, people still worried about the way they smell, but maintaining a good smell is not easy. This is because you would have to be able to afford good hygiene and may need to buy perfume, which is often very expensive. The fact that the upper-class family hires workers who are socially lower than them, but keeps a “line” between them spotlights how they want to use their labour, but doesn’t want to associate with them because they believe that they are superior to them. This could perhaps be part of the reason why most rich people live in gated communities, which is a residential community that has a strictly controlled entrance, they perhaps fear the outside and people, often meaning the lower-class people. You often see an affluent gated- community with large houses and very spacious grounds, next to a poor and cramped community of poorer people. This is a parasitic model because the upper-class is enclosed and surrounded by its host, and benefits from its host, the workers. 


In my opinion, Parasite is a phenomenal film, the film had beautiful cinematography, eccentric use of music and an amazing and unpredictable plot. But that’s not all reason why I love the film enough to write a long piece of writing about it, Parasite allows the audience to reflect on the world we live in today. It makes the audience think and question if the way society is structured is the fairest and equal, and it challenges stereotypes, like ‘poor people as lazy and foolish’. The film is not black and white where it’s clear who is wrong and who is right, as Bong Joon Ho said, “this is a: comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains”. Personally, I feel immense sympathy for the Kim family, because they don’t have the same privilege and advantaged like the Parks. They are clearly very talented and have skills that even the Parks don’t have, perhaps if they were from a different class where they would’ve been able to use these skills in a way that can help and benefit themselves, they would’ve not needed to harm others. But, whether if you think the Park family are the parasites, or the Kim family are the parasites, it’s all for you to ponder and debate about. I’ll leave you with one of Bong Joon Ho’s statements, “It’s not that they were parasites from the start. They are our neighbours, friends and colleagues, who have merely been pushed to the edge of a precipice.”