'Parasite' paints unflinching picture of class divide

February 25, 2020
A scene from the Academy award winning film 'Parasite'

Directed by Bong Joon-Ho
Starring Song-Kang Ho, Choi Woo-Shik & Park So-Dam
In cinemas now

At the 92nd Academy awards ceremony, the 2019 South Korean film Parasite made history as the first foreign-language film to ever win an Oscar, picking up four. The explicitly anti-capitalist film won Best International Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture, beating out films such as 1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Directed by Bong Joon-Ho, whose previous films include The Host and Snowpiercer, Parasite depicts the life of working-class Seoul family the Kims, who live in a cramped semi-basement apartment where they are subject to drunks urinating next to their kitchen window and scraping by to survive.

Their son Ki-woo is offered a job tutoring English to the daughter of a wealthy family, the Parks. However, this presents a challenge as Ki-Woo, being unable to afford the tuition, is not a student and the Parks made it clear they would only hire a university student. His sister Ki-jung is able to forge the appropriate documents and he is hired.

Stunned by the naivety of the wealthy Parks, Ki-woo devises a series of scams to get the rest of the Kim family hired in the Park household. They manage to infiltrate the household, seemingly lifting themselves out of the cycle of precarious part-time employment and poverty.

In contrast to the Kim family, the Park family live in a luxurious, gated home with a spacious, landscaped front yard. While the Kim family had subsisted on takeaway pizza, the Park family fridge is stocked with sparkling water, organic pet food and Japanese Crab sticks for their dogs.

The danger of the Kim family being found out is always present, especially when the Park family notice they all have a distinctive smell. Their son Da-song rudely sniffs them, pronouncing: “They all smell the same.”

Parasite takes a twist when the former housekeeper, Moon-gwang, who the Park family had ousted, turns up at the Park residence. It is revealed she and her husband are hiding out from loan sharks in a basement in the Park home. However there is no class solidarity with another working class family, instead we witness a battle for the scraps from the table of the wealthy.

This is an example of how capitalist ideology seeks to undermine class consciousness, with working-class people pitted against each other in the belief that if you work hard enough, you can make it on your own. As Eileen Jones states in Jacobin: “It is a great gift of socialism that you finally see how the dream of 'making it' on your own, or with your little beleaguered family unit, is crazy in a capitalist system set against you.”

Despite many people remarking on this lack of solidarity, Parasite presents an unflinching picture of the class divisions in South Korea, one of Asia's richest countries, and the grim struggle of working-class families such as the Kims. Jones states: “It crystallises the experiences of being an underclass family grasping at a chance to ‘make it,’ and portrays it in such a way as to hurt you.”

Parasite has been well received by audiences in South Korea and the rest of the world, which is not surprising considering the class inequality depicted in the film and the hypocrisy of a situation where individuals are told to have a plan, but are not offered any clear route to stability. This is an experience universal to people under capitalism.

Parasite's anti-capitalist politics has provoked a predictable right-wing backlash. One right-wing commentator, John Miller, complained in a Tweet that director Joon-ho gave the majority of his acceptance speech for Best Director in Korean, claiming: “These people are the destruction of America.” In another tweet Miller accused Parasite of “stoking the flames of class war” and that Hollywood only awarded the film to show how “woke” it is.

The ability of Parasite to piss off right wingers, as well as the twists and turns during the course of a film that depicts the class divide of South Korean society, make it worth watching. Parasite is a must see film that deserve all the awards it has won.

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