Parasite director Bong Joon-ho’s insightful and engaging comedy/thriller became one of the most talked about films of the year. It also set a new precedent for how a South Korean movie can connect with American audiences. The film is packed with social commentary, thrilling moments, and plenty of meaty writing worthy of a full Parasite movie analysis.
Watch: Bong Joon Ho's Mastery of Genre and Tone
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Parasite Movie Synopsis
A brief Parasite summary
The first half of Parasite plays out largely as a comedy-drama with a compelling narrative and thought-provoking themes.
The Kim family lives in a semi-basement and struggles to keep food on the table. They take on odd jobs for cash like folding pizza boxes, and they rely on unprotected wi-fi networks and street-cleaning pesticides to keep their home insect free.
Ki-woo, the son, is gifted a scholar’s stone or suseok by a friend and given a recommendation for a tutoring job with a wealthy family. Ki-woo and his sister Ki-jung forge credentials for the job, and thus begins the long-con that sees each member of the Kim family infiltrating the upper-class Park family one-by-one.
Ki-jung begins working for the parks under the guise of an art-therapy teacher. Ki-taek, the father, begins working as the Park family chauffeur after the Kims have their previous chauffeur removed. Similarly, Chung-sook, the mother, replaces Moon-gwang, the housekeeper who has served the home longer than the Park’s have even lived there. Chung-sook is framed as deceiving the family by hiding a dangerous illness. The real deception is carried out by the Kims, and works flawlessly.
Once the entire Kim family is employed in the Park household, the lower-class con-artists begin to assume more and more of this fabricated identity of wealth. They take the affluent home as their own while the Parks are away… and that’s when Moon-gwang shows back up and everything changes.
For more Parasite movie analysis, straight from the auteur himself, check out this scene breakdown from Bong Joon-ho. He explains the significance of production design elements, such as the cultural context of scholar’s stones in South Korea.
Parasite Movie Analysis
Navigating a tonal shift
At its exact mid-point, Parasite undergoes a massive tonal shift — this is the focus of our Parasite analysis. How did Bong Joon-ho switch so effortlessly between comedy and thriller? The tone and genre don't just switch once, they are constantly oscillating between the two throughout this sequence.
The shifts happen so quickly, in fact, that we need to examine this scene in detail. To do that, we created a StudioBinder storyboard that isolates the key moments. Follow the image link to explore the storyboard in further detail.
A tonal shift this extreme could easily take viewers out of the film, or feel like a ‘jumping the shark’ moment, but in the hands of Bong Joon-ho, this shift is portrayed in a way that not only feels effortless, but greatly enhances each half of the film that precedes or follows it.
Moon-Gwang’s return to the house and eventual reveal of the secret basement keeps us on the edge of our seats as viewers and seamlessly blends from the drama/comedy centered first half into the thriller/tragedy centered latter half.
Did You Know?
Lee Jeong-eun, who plays Moon-Gwang the housekeeper, also provided the vocalization for Okja, the eponymous super-pig in Bong Joon-ho’s previous film.
Parasite Ending Explained
Orchestrating chaos in the finale
Following the film’s major twist, Parasite continues in a far darker tone until it’s ending. In our Parasite movie analysis, we found that although the tone and style change, the themes at play remain consistent from the first half to the second half, and continue to be developed further as the film progresses.
Power shifts between Moon-gwang and her incognito husband, and the Kim family, as both lower-class families fight for leverage over each other. Both parties have dark secrets, and both threaten to expose the other to the Park family, who remain above the drama, unaware.
Violence erupts and the prophetic scholar’s stone becomes an instrument of violence. Blood is shed and deaths are cast at the birthday party of the Park family’s youngest child.
All three families at play are damaged by this explosive act of violence. The Kim family is destroyed; Ki-jung is killed, Ki-woo is left brain damaged, and Ki-taek is forced into hiding after he snaps and acts out a classism-driven murder in the chaos of the birthday party.
Parasite’s ending features a sequence of Ki-woo’s plan to work hard, buy the house under which his own father now hides, and reunite the family… but this plan is nothing but a fantasy.
The real Parasite movie ending is more bleak, and unfortunately, more realistic. To explain Parasite’s ending, we turn to the director’s own words: “You know and I know — we all know that this kid isn't going to be able to buy that house. I just felt that frankness was right for the film, even though it's sad."
Perfecting social commentary
“What is the movie Parasite about?” has many answers. One clear one to explain the movie is: “Parasite is about class.” Class is the primary target of social commentary within Parasite and every single element from the scholar’s stone, the architecture, the very names of the families, all contribute to this central theme.
It’s no accident that the lower-class protagonists happen to have the single most common surname in South Korea.
Parasite has a lot worthy of analysis, and it has a lot to say. One of the main reasons why Parasite was such a massive success around the world in 2019 is because of its themes and messages of classism and the wealth divide, which are truly universal.
The topic of class is one that Bong Joon-ho has a clear fascination with. He’s skewered class in all of his films to some degree. Prior to Parasite in 2019, his most focused social commentary on class was found in Snowpiercer (2013), which saw the lower class positioned at the back of a train in squalid conditions while the wealthy lived large up front.
The Kim family may be below the Parks in status, but even they can look down on Moon-gwang and her husband. This secret basement reveals an even lower level of status below what we had thought was the floor with the Kim family.
Elevation clearly equates to status; the Park’s have a multi-level home at the top of the hill while the Kim’s live below street level and the surprise 3rd party lives deep underground. This vertical comment on status is illustrated cleanly in this alternate poster for the film.
Parasite represents the most focused and refined approach to class as a subject that Bong Joon-ho has achieved, and that’s certainly saying something given his impressive body of work.
Parasite in 2019
The impact of Parasite
Parasite has proven to be a groundbreaking achievement for South Korean movies. For years the country has been producing some of the finest films and directors in the world of cinema, but Parasite has crossed new milestones in terms of global impact.
Parasite director Bong Joon-ho became the first South Korean filmmaker to win Best Director at the Academy Awards. Has also tied Walt Disney for most Oscars awarded to an individual at a single ceremony.
Not just the first South Korean film to win the Best International Film award at the Oscars, but also the first foreign language film from any country to win the overall Best Picture award.
Equally impressive was Parasite becoming the first South Korean movie to win the Palme d’Or, the top prize of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Parasite was the first film since Marty in 1955 to win the top prize of both The Oscars and the Cannes Film Festival.
It wasn’t just awards records that Parasite broke in 2019. Parasite broke a number of financial records as well, including the highest foreign film opening weekend of all time for the UK box office, and a number of records with the Indie Box Office.
The record setting trend continues for the Parasite film. After being added Hulu’s catalogue for exclusive streaming, it became the platform’s most streamed film in both the independent and foreign film categories.
The cultural swell around Parasite is much deserved and hopefully leads more audience members to check out Parasite director Bong Joon-ho’s previous films, and more South Korean cinema in general.
How to set-dress like Bong Joon-ho
For more Parasite movie analysis, check out our article on how Bong Joon-ho creates meaning through set dressing. The article breaks down how to identify and breakdown set elements in a screenplay. Follow along with the Parasite script as StudioBinder is used to recreate what the actual script breakdown may have looked like.