Some consider it the director’s cinematographic peak, others were left ‘a bit cold’ as it progressed, but the different reactions of the audience arise from a common ground: it did not meet anyone’s expectations.
(SPOILER ALERT – if you have not watched Bong Joon ho’s acclaimed award-winning ‘Parasite’ yet and do not want any spoilers, this commentary on the film may not be for you.)
The movie sets off in the very subsoils of Seoul, in a house, or more accurately a lair. Its inhabitants can only enjoy some outside views that don’t reach above the hips of the drunk guy that frequents their street as his reliable midnight toilet. Since the first moment, we observe how the heads of the household themselves are in acceptance of their situation in the social strata, but never in a passive despair. Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), the father, allows the street insecticide in, with open arms. He spares no rejection of their position.
His more reluctant wife Moon-gwand (Lee Jung-eun) calls his sneaky sixth sense worth of a cockroach. However, Ki-taek seems to always have a purpose, hoping for higher windows, in this case, saving an insecticide, to expend in ‘their plan’ which arrives with the offer of Ki-woo’s old friend. The eyes of Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), their older son, shine brighter as his undergraduate friend offers him a teaching spot for the daughter of a considerably wealthy family: the Parks.
The charisma of each member of the family almost makes us forget the drawbacks to their strategies (like leaving complete strangers jobless), and even makes us root for them to one day leave their underground habitat and replace the hosts of the house with the dreamy green and blue views. Nevertheless, the course of the story appears like two puzzled different movies with two distinct genres.
By the first 50 minutes we are already familiar with the Kims’ impressive acting and entrepreneurial skills, the family has already been successful in playing a specific role in the Parks’ lives. But a drastic turning point calls to their door (literally). Enjoying the Park’s house to themselves – since the previous leave for a weekend getaway from the comfort (ironic) – and while drunk in dreams and jokes that progressively make us feel more tense, Jang Hye-jin (Choon-sook), the former cleaning assistant of the Parks, rings.
She’s unrecognizable, tired, frenetic – has she been beaten up? The Kims’ plan begins to feel dizzy. They had not seen beyond the old lonely server. At that very moment, the silent fills the theatre seats. “Don’t let her in.” But they do – how could they not? They took her job… or should they stick to climbing their intangible ladder, to their plan? Like Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), the sharp younger daughter reminds her dad earlier.
The movie no longer evolves around the symbiosis that permeated the Kims’ newer routine: happily going up the Parks’ stairs every morning and harshly going back down their neighbourhood’s. The movie now shows the reality of a society full of parasites, but also predators, an inherent constant fight for survival. The smell of fear that even infects households like the Parks’, both intranationally and internationally: I personally liked the not-so-implicit references to the underlying fear from the northern neighbour that remains real for South Korea. The black comedy is now a complete thriller and it knocks down my expectations scene by scene until the very end.
Last but not least: the smell. I’ve always thought “we capture visuals, sounds, but we can’t capture odours”, I wish you could be able to do so. Send someone the smell of fresh peaches, keep the smell of the clothes of a loved one in a box… As I processed the movie the day I watched it I realised Bong Joon-ho manages to do that.
The director captures smell in the shape of a message: the clash of classes. “They all smell like the people in the subway, I can’t take it,” says the alpha Park. And I know Madrid’s metro will never be a limousine, despite being very convenient and new, but I once overheard someone say how they avoided the metro by all means as “everyone touches the same seats there”, and that scene rang a bell. Since the Parks’ employed Ki-taek onwards, I could sense how their thoughtless comments were throwing more and more carbon to the fire.
Overall, every family will look after its own survival first; the Parks, the Kims… every parent wants the best for their kids – following what they understand as the best. But the movie makes you wonder, is it that easy clawing your way up to the top? Surely I mean when you start from the ‘under-bottom’. Even if you are bright and thriving with energy, willingness, your eyes are outside your designated bubble… is your destine already written? They are completely different stories but… Is it weird that Ki-jeong reminded me in some way of the kid with the drone in Les Misérables (2019)?