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“Parasite” by Bong Joon-Ho Essay

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Updated: Jun 18th, 2022

Introduction

Parasite is a critically-acclaimed film by South-Korean director Bong Joon Ho. It follows the lives of a destitute family who plot to gain employment from an affluent family and infiltrating their household. The film’s title, Parasite, is a double entendre, which leads the viewer to question who is indeed the parasite; between the rich who exploit underpaid labor, or the poor who exploit the economic resources and affluence of the rich. This thesis will critically review the film elements adopted in Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, and how they facilitate the audience’s immersion and experience in the contrasting worlds of the rich and the poor; prompting them to question who the real parasites are.

Space

Arguably, Bong Joon Ho’s story and ideas in Parasite, including the class divide between the rich and the poor, are brought to life through creative use of space in the movie. The first introduction to the poor Kim family presents the film’s reliance on space to pass the subliminal messages that are critical to the film (Ridgeway-Diaz 1). They live in a cramped and tiny apartment, and the claustrophobic nature of the place is made more apparent by the small window that is placed high up, overlooking the street level. The poverty of the Kim’s is also underlined by the drunkard who relieves himself next to their window, figuratively invading their space every other night. This idea of the lack of space is underlined by the placement of the toilet, which is perched at an absurd height as an inconceivably desperate element of design.

Contrastingly, the opulent Park family lives in a rather airy and modern minimalist house. There is concrete and wood in tasteful arrangements, large rooms, and an elegant stairway without a banister or frills. A section in which the thematic element of space is apparent, however, is the living room. In this room, there is an enormous window door that is a direct opposite of the Kim’s tiny window overlooking the street from their cramped underground basement house. The view from the Parks is also vastly different, as rather than looking at the ugliness of the world as the Kim’s do from their window, the Parks get to enjoy their beautiful garden. The dissimilarity in the availability of space between the Parks and the Kim’s, as well as elements that they allow into their space clearly highlights the significant differences among the rich and poor classes.

Actors

Parasite has been termed by its director as a ‘comedy without clowns’ or ‘a tragedy without villains’ which underlines the unique role of the actors within the film. They directly embody the class divide between the rich and the poor (Ridgeway-Diaz 1). The first introduction to this contrast is with the initial depiction of the Kim family, with its patriarch Ki-taek and matriarch Chung-sook in their semi-basement home. Their street-smart entrepreneurial nature is shown in them trying to scrounge for free Wi-Fi coverage. They also leave their windows open to benefit from the city’s street bug fumigation. They have little to share with each other. This situation changes, however, when their son, Ki-woo gets the opportunity to tutor a rich school girl and he forges a certificate with the help of his artistic sister Ki-jung. He successfully bluffs his way into the home of the affluent Park family.

Contrastingly, the Parks live in an architectural masterpiece that is perched high up on the hills over the slums of Seoul. Their views are of luxurious, well-tended lawns and clear starlit skies, unlike the Kims whose views consist regularly of urinating drunks. The Parks are everything the Kims are not. Their house is airy, elegant, and isolated. While the aloof patriarch Mr. Park is away on business, the uptight, anxious matriarch Yeon-kyo tends to their flirtatious daughter and their highly energetic son. Their lifestyle demands and relies heavily upon hired help. These include a tutor, a housekeeper, and a chauffeur. This is the opportunity that Ki-woo identifies, and envisions getting his family across the socioeconomic divide to infiltrate the privileged lives of the Parks to fill these roles.

Framing

Framing was an essential film element deployed in Parasite to highlight the class divide. Framing refers primarily to the presentation of elements visually in cinematography (Maddock 65). This is especially critical in the placement of visual elements in relation to other objects. Each of the houses in Bong’s Parasite had uniform front-facing windows. The poor family had a small window, with a view of a drunkard relieving himself. In contrast, the rich family had a significantly more expansive window which provided access to the serene view of a beautiful, tended garden.

This framing is also implemented in subtler ways throughout the film. For instance, in a scene where the poor Kim family surround their boss at a destitute alley near their home. The boss is framed squarely and every family member squeezes into the frame to surround her. Their closeness foreshadows what is to come later in the film.

Lighting

Lighting was heavily used in Parasite to depict the class divide between the rich and the poor. Lighting is a fundamental element in film-making as it creates visual moods and atmosphere for the audience (Lancaster 27). The lighting in the film primarily used sunlight, and the lack thereof, to highlight this disparity between the Kim’s and the Park’s social status.

The poor family’s house is a basement, and thus sunlight is only available through a tiny window, which does not supply sufficient light for the house. Conversely, the rich family lives in a mansion, where the interior is awash in warm-hued, natural light the entire day. This approach conveys the tone of the film, and impacts how the audience perceives both the characters, and their respective settings.

Perspective

Perspective, despite being a highly subtle element, is used extensively within Parasite. Perspective is primarily used to make things seem larger than life, or diminutive, by skewing perceptions, either objectively or symbolically (Lancaster 49). A rather ingenious implementation of perspective in the film is through the use of staircases to symbolically signify promotion or demotion.

For instance, the poor mother is seen ascending a stairway, as the recently-fired maid descends down, and away, from the rich house. Further, when the Kim family leaves the mansion, they are pictured running down several flights of stairs at a far-off distance that they look diminutive and almost like tiny bugs. Finally, other subtler implementations include the Kim family living in a basement, while the Park family live on a hill. The initial shots of the Kim family are top-down as we look down on them, but when the son is employed as a tutor, the perspective shifts, and the audience looks up at him.

Conclusion

The cinematography elements employed by Bong Joon Ho in Parasite are diverse. The inspirations of the film also range from apparent to quite subtle. However, the film elements ensure that the actors, as well as the houses and locations are essential characters in the story, and seek to elucidate on the class divide present in the society.

Works Cited

Lancaster, Kurt. Basic Cinematography: A Creative Guide to Visual Storytelling. Routledge, 2019.

Maddock, Daniel. Australian Cinematographer, vol. 1, no. 77, 2018, pp. 64-65, Web.

Ridgeway-Diaz, J., Truong, T. T., & Gabbard, G. O. (2020). Return of the Repressed: Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite. Academic Psychiatry, 1-3.

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IvyPanda. ""Parasite" by Bong Joon-Ho." June 18, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/parasite-by-bong-joon-ho/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. ""Parasite" by Bong Joon-Ho." June 18, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/parasite-by-bong-joon-ho/.

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