"Parasite is not a horror film, but it is not one bit less chilling"twitter/parasite

Parasite is not a horror film, but it is not one bit less chilling. Set in South Korea, it invites the audience to the stunningly modernist mansion of the wealthy Park family, into which the poor Kim family are plotting to infiltrate. By pretending to be highly skilled but unrelated workers, one by one, members of the Kim family manage to find employment within the Park household and taste the luxurious lifestyle that they could only envy. As the Kims stumble across deeper secrets hidden beneath the house, their newfound heaven soon turns into an arena of nightmare and bloodshed.

"Parasite's diagnosis of Kims’ impoverishment is brutally individualistic, harking back to the time of Victorian Poor Laws when poverty was blamed on the incompetence of the poor”

What I find even more thrilling than the house of the Parks, however, is the way Parasite portrays poverty. Its diagnosis of Kims’ impoverishment is brutally individualistic, harking back to the time of Victorian Poor Laws when poverty was blamed on the incompetence of the poor. At the beginning of the film, we see a picture of the mother Chung-sook, apparently taken back in the days when she was a hammer-throwing athlete. The silver medal hanging next to the picture, dated about two decades ago, appears to be the height of her unsuccessful career. Later on, it is revealed in a conversation that the son Ki-woo has failed university entrance exam four times. Director Bong Joon-ho confirmed these in a later interview, adding that father Ki-taek “has accumulated numerous business failures”, while the daughter Ki-jeong has also “failed the university entrance exam on multiple occasions”. In other words, the Kims are trapped in unemployment as a result of their own, personal failures.

"To be frank, every single member of the Kim family seems like a hyper-employable superman, in great contrast to the collective inadequacy described by Bong"twitter/parasite

There are at least two problems with this. Firstly, it is not very convincing. After all, the Kims find their way into the house of the Parks by posing as workers with sophisticated skills. Ki-woo was the first to get hired as an English tutor, followed by his sister Ki-jeong, who fooled the highly educated Parks into thinking she is a renowned art therapist. Ki-teak and Chung-sook later join them as the driver and the housekeeper respectively, impressing the Parks with their performances. To be frank, every single member of the Kim family seems like a hyper-employable superman, in great contrast to the collective inadequacy described by Bong.

“By stripping the Kims of their family history and stripping the South Korean shantytowns they live in of their larger social history, Parasite posits the dangerous argument that poverty is self-made”

Secondly, Parasite’s interpretation of poverty is disturbingly inaccurate. By stripping the Kims of their family history and stripping the South Korean shantytowns they live in of their larger social history, Parasite posits the dangerous argument that poverty is self-made. In fact, the development of Korean shantytowns was a direct result of government policies out of the residents’ control. Take Guryong Village, one of the best-known South Korean slums, as an example. Guryong Village has captured enormous media attention because it embodies the irony of wealth inequality in modern South Korea - situating right on the edge of the incredibly affluent Gangnam District, residents of Guryong live in houses as small as 16 square meters.

"It is extremely disappointing that Parasite chooses to display the problem of inequality in a vacuum, detached from any historical, political and social background"twitter/parasite

From the 1960s onwards, South Korea witnessed a series of rapid economic development heavily skewed towards Seoul. As urban migration put increasing strain on the housing in Seoul, more and more people were forced to live in illegal shantytowns under precarious conditions. The government made the matter worse by frequently undertaking slum clearings in order to beautify the city. Finally, in the lead-up towards the Seoul Olympics of 1988, the slums around the Gangnam District were uprooted to make room for a new stadium. With barely any compensations, the residents there started to move into Guryong. Thus, one of the biggest shantytowns of Seoul was born.

“It is extremely disappointing that Parasite chooses to display the problem of inequality in a vacuum, detached from any historical, political and social background”

The Kims do not necessarily live in Guryong, but they are certainly not immune from the fate of repetitive expulsions and government hostility that overshadow thousands of other slum residents. It is extremely disappointing that Parasite chooses to display the problem of inequality in a vacuum, detached from any historical, political and social background. Consequently, the world of Parasite appears to be a perfect Social Darwinist lab, where people suffer from poverty simply because they have lost the ‘survival of the fittest’ game. While Bong has definitely succeeded in exploiting the dramatic effect of class polarization to its fullest, unfortunately, it seems like he cares little about the structural problems that underpin inequalities.


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Of course, it is not the duty of films to be all-encompassing or accurate. I respect the decision of filmmakers to exclude whatever background they deem unnecessary for their works. But, in the end, films are produced by people, whose worldviews are inevitably exposed by the moving images they create. I am afraid I find it difficult to sympathize with the worldview offered by Parasite. As Parasite conquers the Oscars with four awards, including  the historic win of Best Picture for the foreign language production, it is important to remember that this should not be the best depiction of poverty and inequality of our age.

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