This movie felt like, “What if OldBoy was kind of more about real estate?” or “What if the Monkey’s Paw was a Korean cautionary tale?” Obviously there’s a lot more going on than that, but Wow.
Ok so I feel like there was like 40-45 minutes of just building a normal fucking world. And maybe this is racist of my brain to connect, but it felt like Shoplifters to me: an Asian family in poverty, everyone living in one room, conning to make things work, etc. One of the biggest differences though is how awful I felt for most of this movie. It didn’t feel like the family were good people? Is that capitalism speaking? Like I completely understand poverty makes you do things that compromise your morals but it didn’t really feel like there was much to compromise, and of course someone could say that’s a learned mentality necessary for survival/being poor your whole life but I feel like there are plenty of people who at least wrestle with the morality of certain decisions and it feels kind of condescending to not think that just because they’re poor, like, “Oh poor people don’t have morality because they’re *poor,* they simply can’t afford it,” that feels gross.
The daughter (Ki-jung played by Park So Dam) especially embodied this. The driver she thoughtlessly frames and causes to lose his job, I felt awful for. Ok but now we’re reaching the meat (the ram-don if you will)-when the old housekeeper comes. This is when we really leave the reality of the story we’ve known, and add this INSANE layer. It was like peeling back a layer of an onion, and below that layer your husband hasn’t been outside in 4 years. Wowza!
I literally kept holding my head in my hands- all the scenes in that basement/bomb shelter area freaked me the fuck out, from the housekeepers concussion (how did that not kill her?? Have you ever fallen down concrete stairs and had your entire body weight slam your head against a wall? Of course not, because you would be dead!), the shell-shocked bloody morse code head bangs, to the son running with that steel turnkey noose thing clanging behind him, all of it freaked me out.
A stroke of genius was having the birthday party to build tension because between them losing their house to a literal shit storm, and the people trapped in the basement with respective head wounds, the cuts to the sunny, cake-filled birthday party were a perfect contrast.
So just a general recap if you haven’t seen it (which, you should close this window immediately and wait til you do) or forgot stuff, like I do: A poor family gets an in with an incredibly rich family looking for a tutor because the current one (Min played by Seo-joon Park ) is studying abroad. He has a crush on the tutee (which is also unethical and made me uncomfortable the whole time, how old is she?? Everyone says they’re gonna ask her out when she goes to university, so is she in Korean high school? I hated it) and wants someone he can trust to “look after her.” Gross. He recommends his friend (the son of the poor family, Kim Ki-woo played by Woo-sik Choi) who he lies and says is a college student. Of course he and the daughter (Park Da-hye played by Ji-so Jung) start making out right away.
Slowly he gets his entire family hired as they one by one dispose of the current staff. But one (the old housekeeper Moon-gwang played by Lee Jung Eun) comes back and reveals that her husband has been living in a secret part of the house for 4 years give or take, (what’s a few months when we’re talking underground isolation!). The mom is kind of being a bitch about it but then there’s a power shift/struggle when the old maid (no offense) discovers that they’re all a family and deceived the rich people.
But then the rich people are coming home unexpectedly and the most stressful 8 minutes of my life ensues where somehow they get everything back in place and hide. There’s a very good sex scene (if you’re me), then the family manages to escape undetected. They walk a million years home in the rain only to find their home (basement level) flooding with sewage water. They try to salvage everything they own then sleep in a gym with everyone else who got flooded. During this, right before going to sleep the boy asks his father what the plan is regarding the 2 people they now left locked in the bowels of the house. The dad then has a speech about how the only plan that can’t get messed up is no plan, so they shouldn’t plan to do anything. The boy kind of disagrees, and while this is happening he is clutching the oversize rock Min gave them which I forgot to mention. Min brought over a giant rock as a present from his grandfather when he asked Kim to tutor the girl. He said the rock brought people wealth and also some other stuff I can’t remember. My read of the rock was that all their luck started changing when it got brought into the house but ultimately it was a curse.
The kid brings it to the basement to kill? The guy chained there (so there were no loose ends? I have no idea why he wanted to kill him) and ends up getting absolutely mauled with it (how does HE not die?? How). ANyway, the shit really hits the fan at the birthday party (next day) when the basement guy gets out and attacks (and kills) the daughter with a kitchen knife, and ends up dying because the mom stabs with with some shrimp (true). But then the DAD stabs the rich guy (Mr. Park played by Lee Sun Kyun), because he made a face of disgust when he went to get the car keys from under the dead guy and he smelled him. “Smell” has been woven through the whole movie as it pertains to class particularly, all the rich characters (except the daughter I’m pretty sure) mention (or notice) how poor people smell different, and they can’t quite place the smell, it’s from the basement or the subway or a certain kind of laundry soap or a radish or a boiled rag, etc. Anyway, when he makes a face at the smell of the guy, the dad goes over and stabs him, then hides in the secret shelter for life I suppose.
There’s morse code with the lights- there’s a lot of stuff, you really have to see it- and his son finds out he’s in there. Then we get HIS letter (which, how would he ever get it to his dad?) where he resolves to one day be so rich he can buy the house and his dad can just, “walk up the stairs.” As he is narrating this, we see it all happening so you think time is passing but when he finishes the letter he is his same age (he’s had brain surgery) and it hits you how long and daunting a task that really is. Then the movie ends.
Some stuff: There’s absolutely some parallel about levels/being ‘underground’/the symbology of staircases and what that signifies and is it better to be safe but not free or in danger but have freedom, etc. Like I said earlier, I think the stone was some kind of monkey’s paw, magical but cursed. I wonder if Min was well or mal-intended, I want to rewatch through that lens. I feel like who you think is good in this movie says a lot about you.
The meal that the mom called to ask her to cook that let them know they were coming home- Ram-don, looked SO good I looked it up because I want to make it and I found all these articles about why she added sirloin in it, apparently that’s unusual? From an article in the LA times written by Margy Rochlin, “Those fluent in Korean would tell you that the housewife in the movie is actually directing her maid to prepare a popular Korean quick food, jjapaguri, a word so hard to translate that for the English subtitles “Parasite” translator Darcy Paquet chose instead to invent a name not known in any language but that would merge the words “ramen” and “udon.”
Bong said he came up with the steak-on-a-pile-of-instant noodles as a way of showing how the wealthy housewife wanted to please her young son but how she also regarded jjapaguri as food for commoners, hence adding the steak.
I kept thinking about the title, which means to invade and prey from within, and something that cannot live without a host. There’s definitely socialist commentary to be made here regarding the inherent evils of capitalism and greed but I won’t, just vote for Bernie Sanders.
I’ve seen a few cursory reviews framing this as an ‘exploration of class tension’ but I think it goes deeper than that, I think it’s a framing of morality through the lens of wealth. An interesting line of dialogue from the mother of the poor family about the rich one after someone compliments her for being, ‘so nice,’ “She’s not nice enough for being so rich, she’s nice because she’s so rich.” Insinuating that wealth allows people the security to have morals/kindness and implying that being poor does not.
I felt like a question that kept coming up for me was, who is blameless in this story? The rich mom desperately wanted to be around people she could trust for fear of being taken advantage of, and this drove her into the arms of people doing exactly that. A huge fallacy here to me seemed that the relationships with her employees didn’t mean anything to her, she stressed many times how much ‘easier’ it is to let people go and not say the reason, had she asked them a simple question she would have very quickly realized something was amiss but the readily available notion (to her) that poorer people are immoral let her believe flagrantly false things about people she had had daily interactions with for years. Combined with not wanting to deal with the discomfort of confrontation, and that she hadn’t formed relationships with them despite ‘knowing’ them such a long time (in the case of the housekeeper especially) all conflated and prevented her from seeing the truth of the situation. If we’re comparing the morality (and why wouldn’t we?) Which is worse: getting someone you don’t know fired to feed your starving family or firing someone you’ve known for years based on a strangers gossip?
Who we see as the villain and the victim in stories like this has a lot to do with structural wealth and access to resources. (I guess I am going into a socialist rant?) But just, we moralize crimes based on what we perceive about the person all the time regardless of ethics—and maybe I’m projecting, maybe everyone else watched this and thought everyone was a bad person and this is very obvious but I think it’s interesting because usually the class dynamics is a direct corollary to value depending on who made the art: either all the rich people are the bad guys or all the poor people are, and I liked this because everyone seemed like the bad guys? Or just, no one was faultless in the violent chaos that sort of became their universe.
Actually, not no one, the little boy (Da-song played by Jung Hyeon Jun) seemed to me to be the key to everything and outside this dynamic. He is the only one who can sense what’s going on and he’s haunted by it (they repeatedly reference his ‘trauma’ from seeing a ‘ghost’ which was actually the husband coming up to get food). He stays connected to the old housekeeper through texts because they had a friendship and this is the reason she knows the family is out of town, he is the reason the mom invites “Jessica” to the birthday party then everyone else is invited because of that, he’s the reason the mom calls and says they’re coming home so the housekeeper can make the ram-don, he’s the one to notice the family all smell the same, etc. So many crucial plot elements enacted because he sees & interacts with the world differently than his parents and sister. There’s also a lot of really interesting descriptions of him, the mom describes him as Basquit-esque (lol he’s 9) but in a movie steeped in class issues comparing him to someone poor who became rich only to die of a heroin overdose is probably peripherally meaningful, there were more but I forgot them.
I really wanted this review to have a fully formed thesis and breakdown of ideas but I’m in the middle of moving right now and at this point I saw this movie weeks ago and I just need to publish this. I think it’s about class but I also think it’s about morality through the lens of wealth, and I think the narrative was structured in a very intentional way to invoke sympathy through a loaded interpretation of ethics. That’s basically it. There’s like examples and stuff in the movie of this. Find them yourself I’m tired!!!! Oh also the movie was very beautiful.
I liked it a lot, 6/7 cubes of sirloin steak in the ram-don, would masturbate again.