By Zach Cogan, Joalda Morancy, and Frank Martin
Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite does an exceptional job of displaying the large wealth gap between the very rich and very poor in South Korea. The magnitude of the wealth disparity is clearly depicted through the homes of the Kim and Park families. The Kim’s home is below ground in a cluttered area surrounded by other poor families. Their house has poor lighting and contains little running technology, even lacking an actual bathroom as the toilet merely sits up on a ledge. Their home is neglected by the city and is vulnerable to floods.
The Park’s home is set in an enclosed space surrounded by a beautiful array of trees. Inside the home is the simplistic and artistic complexion of a home built to not only embody luxury but also to be itself a piece of art. The house has plenty of space and modern technology, which keeps it looking simple and clean, in contrast to the Kims who use a ceiling fan to dry socks that generates much clutter.
The two homes feature huge windows that become a central component to the daily lives of their families. The Kims look up to see out of their window and the Parks look straight out to see out of theirs. Analyzing this distinction reveals a metaphor that the Kim’s are looking to move up the socioeconomic ladder, while the Park’s are satisfied where they are. This is furthered with the placement of their homes. The Park’s home is on top of a hill, protected from flooding and isolated from the poor, while the Kim’s home is vulnerable to floods and crowded by others. An argument can be made that the Kim’s embody the proletarians and their rise to the Park’s home expresses their uprising to take from the Parks, the bourgeoisie, using Marxist theory. Yet, despite their success at leaching off the Parks, things eventually turn south and Mr. Park is killed by Mr. Kim. The answer to the question as to why Mr. Kim murdered Mr. Park will be answered through analyzing the following scenes from the film.
Mr. Kim talks to Mrs. Park about the housekeeper’s “TB”
This scene is preceded by Mr. Kim getting a text from Mrs. Park to discuss in private about the housekeeper’s TB, a ploy used by the Kims to get her fired. Mr. Kim climbs up the stairs to meet Mrs. Park, a metaphor used to express his intention to transition to the top of society, leaving behind the housekeeper, another member of his socioeconomic standing.
This scene depicts that although Mr. Kim believes to be above the housekeeper, he is still below Mrs. Park in power and societal standing. The staging and location choices of this scene aid in the development of this depiction. Through an establishing shot, we see Mr. Kim opening one door and ducking under another into an enclosed room for the clandestine meeting. Mrs. Kim motions him to sit down while she stands over him. Bong’s choice to position Mr. Kim below Mrs. Park reveals that Mrs. Park holds power over Mr. Kim by being his employer, despite the Kim’s charlatan scheme. The scene exhibits shallow staging in a space so tight that the audience receives a sense of claustrophobia, playing into the fearful nature of the meeting.
Bong uses low-key lighting in the scene to portray the scene as clandestine and fearful since both Mrs. Park and Mr. Kim have much on the table to lose from the conversation. Mrs. Park’s role in the family is as a homemaker, and having a housekeeper with TB is unsafe to her family and a failure of her job, which is why she is frightened of her husband finding out. Mr. Kim needs this conversation to end with the housekeeper told she is being fired for something other than TB because she could easily refute the accusation and ruin the Kim’s parasitic employment. However, Mr. Park in this scene looks confident and calms her down to not only steer the conversation but also portray innocence.
The anxiety experienced by Mrs. Park and the confidence displayed by Mr. Kim is aided through Bong’s choices of cinematography and editing with the decision to focus on the character’s facial expressions. This is accomplished with a smaller shot scale (no larger than medium close-up) that allows the audience to focus on their faces.
Their conversation is shown through a series of eyeline match shots, which supports the depiction of their facial expressions by allowing the audience to see the impact their conversation has on each other. For example, Mr. Kim expresses his regret with a concerned look in his eyes for snitching on the housekeeper, and we see Mrs. Kim’s immediate reaction to tranquilize his fictitious concerns and then wipe a tear over having to fire her.
The scene ends with an extreme close-up of Mr. Kim attempting to shake Mrs. Park’s hand. The scene exhibits it’s first pan, moving slightly to the left towards Mrs. Park and showing how uncomfortable she is to touch him. Whether her anxiety has to do with him touching the bloody napkin or that he is dirty in general, it displays another example of Mr. Kim falling short of his intentions to be treated like a member of the upper class and not as a dirty and low income.
The Kim’s hide under the table while the Park’s are on the couch
The staging of the characters in this scene depicts the Kim’s as lower in society than the Parks. This scene reveals several reasons as to why Mr. Kim may have killed Mr. Park, including Mr. Kim’s realization that his family is still viewed as poor, even after all they have done to make money. The Kim’s are hiding under a table in the Park’s living room because the Parks came home early from a camping trip. Throughout the scene, the camera focuses primarily on the Parks, and the table that the Kims are under is only shown at the bottom portion of the screen. When the camera shows the Kim’s hiding, the viewer can only see the Park’s feet. Using different camera angles, the directors set up the scene to depict the Kims as beneath the Parks. Without the knowledge that they are under the table, someone could interpret them as rats, hiding under the floor. Rats live under the floors of homes and depend on the residents for shelter and food remnants. The Kims similarly leech off the Parks and their success.
In addition, the lighting throughout the scene shows the gap between the families. The Kims are shown in low-key lighting, and it looks like they are under a floorboard, portraying their poverty and dirtiness. In a way, it compares the Kims to the former housekeeper’s husband who is hiding from the Parks in their basement. Both the Kims and the former housekeeper’s husband take from the Parks, but at least the housekeeper works honestly for it.
Further, despite their hard work and scheming, they still reek of poor-people smell and are not treated as equals to the Parks. The camera tilts from the Kim’s hiding under the table to the Park’s laying on the couch, showing that they are above them. The Parks are shown in high-key lighting because they have nothing to hide from, enjoying their wealthy life. They are living in the top class of society with luxurious pajamas and furniture, while Mr. Kim reeks of “old-radish” as described by Mr. Park. The scene then shows Mr. Kim smelling his shirt signifying his realization that nothing has changed for him or his family. They can leech all they want, but they still are no better than the man who lives under the house in hiding. The Park’s continue to discuss the smell as the camera pans to show a close up shot of Mr. Kim and his daughter lying on the floor. His daughter seems to feel sorry for him as she looks at him then looks away. Mr. Kim’s expression is one of embarrassment and disappointment. No matter how hard he works and how much changes, he will forever be plagued with the poor people’s smell.
Mr. Park also says that Mr. Kim never crosses a line but his smell does. This is a foreshadowing of Mr. Kim crossing the line at the end of the movie. His smell reminds the Park’s of the subway, which Mrs. Park has not rode for ages. This is yet another reference to the difference in socioeconomic class. The Kim’s cannot afford the subway whereas the Parks completely disregard it as low-income transportation. As the Park’s pleasure each other, the camera pans to the table which looks identical to the floor. This is the most straight-forward representation of the Kim family being no better than rats or leeches under the Park’s house. They are lying under the floor of someone else’s house, leeching off their success. No matter how hard the Kims work to change their lives, they will never be able to get rid of the “smell,” or change their place in society. This realization is what drives Mr. Kim to finally cross the line and kill Mr. Park.
Mr. Kim kills Mr. Park
The staging of this scene is the result of the chaos set by the former housekeeper’s husband at the birthday party. Jessica has been stabbed and Mr. Kim is trying to help her as she bleeds out. The old housekeeper is now trying to kill Chung-sook.
Mr. Kim looks around at the chaos, and Mr. Park urgently orders Mr. Kim to get the car to bring Da-song to the hospital. Mr. Park neglect
s the wounded Jessica before him. Mr. Kim remains kneeling by his daughter and looking up to Mr. Park with his mouth wide open, which may signify the social class disparity between the pair, but also implies his disgust that Mr. Park disregards Jessica’s well-being. This scene is shot with high-key lighting, enhancing the effect of the chaos and making it look very real. But even with high-key lighting, while on the grass kneeling, Mr. Kim is shown as if he is in someone’s shadow, generating a dismal effect of upcoming danger.
From Mr. Kim’s point of view, the scene unfolds in slow motion. While he takes in everything, we as viewers are able to analyze the scene as it progresses. We see the irony of the Native American headdresses, since the scene started off so innocent and has transitioned into calamity. Reality hits Mr. Kim that their whole scheme to enhance their lives has failed after seeing the gruesome injury to his son’s head and stab wound to his daughter’s chest; he admits defeat by tossing the keys to Mr. Park. They keys fall short of Mr. Park and end up under the fight between the housekeeper’s husband and Chung-sook. Their fight is filmed like an action movie, with the audience experiencing quick jump shots between each stab. The wealthy guests stand above them, watching from a distance, which further ties into the idea of the upper class watching the struggles of the lower class from a distance they find comfortable.
When the fight ends, the keys lie under the dying housekeeper’s husband. Mr. Park tries to retrieve them, only to meet the deranged man who recognizes him. Upon retrieving the keys, he instinctively gags at his smell, something he has also done to Mr. Kim (although not to his face). This man worships Mr. Park while Mr. Kim wants to be Mr. Park. This difference is negligent because in this moment, Mr. Kim realizes that he will never be Mr. Park when wealthy men like Mr. Park give him the same label of poor, signified by his smell, to the housekeeper’s husband, a man he thought he was better than. Following Mr. Park clenching his nose together to avoid the man’s stench, Mr. Kim in a sudden shock of anger stabs Mr. Park- and why? His hard work, although dishonest, has proven to be futile. We can see this as the proletarian attempting an uprising to overthrow the bourgeoisie. Hard work has failed for Mr. Kim and violence is the only way that he can take Mr. Park’s power. After Mr. Kim flees the scene and goes into hiding, Bong leaves us with the idea that neither through hard work or violence will the proletarian ever be able to defeat the bourgeoisie.