Format: Streaming video from Hulu on basement television.
I imagine there is a great deal of competition among the general streaming services. Netflix nabbing the streaming rights to one thing, Hulu to another, Amazon another, and so on. After all, what you’ve got streaming is how you attract people to your service. Hulu managed to nab Parasite, the first non-English winner of Best Picture at the Oscars. While that might not be much of a win for the average person, for movie nerds, it’s a reason to take Hulu seriously, or more seriously.
Parasite (Gisaengchung, which evidently translates more accurately to something more like “tapeworm”) topped a hell of a lot of “Best of” lists from 2019, and while it was a surprise that a non-English language film won Best Picture, there were a lot of people rooting for it. It’s been on Hulu for a couple of weeks, but because of work issues, this was the first chance I had to sit down and watch it.
We start with the Kim family. Father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) are desperately poor. They live in a half-basement apartment and work putting together pizza boxes for a local pizzeria. Things start to change when Min (Park Seo-joon), a friend of Ki-woo brings the family a gift, and then a huge opportunity. Min is leaving the country, and is offering Ki-woo his job as an English tutor. His student is Park Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), a high school sophomore. He offers the position to Ki-woo because he has romantic intentions with Da-hye, and believes that his college colleagues will steal her away from him.
Immediately, Ki-woo starts to make plans for the rest of his family. The Parks are staggeringly rich—walk-in closets the size of bedrooms rich—and Ki-woo sees this as an opportunity. In addition to starting to romance Da-hye himself, he realizes that the Parks’ son Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun) has some issues. He offers his sister as an art therapist, not telling the mother Choi Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) that they are related. She sets of the family chauffeur and gets him fired, and suggests hiring Ki-taek, again, leaving out that he is her father.
Getting Chung-sook in on the scam is harder. The live-in housekeeper, Gook Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) has been with the house longer than the Park family—she lived there as the housekeeper under the original architect. But, with treachery and quick thinking, Moon-gwang is sent packing. Now all the Kims are working for the Parks, with no one the wiser. Park family patriarch Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) does seem concerned that Ki-taek has a particular odor to him that seems to come from the family apartment.
Eventually, the Parks go on a camping holiday, and the Kims more or less move into the house while they are go, hoping for a few days of luxury. During a very rainy evening, everything changes when Moon-gwang shows back up. I’m not going to go any further here—what follows is one of the strangest twists I’ve seen in a long time.
I’m not going to go any further, because that twist and Parasite in general should not be ruined for anyone.
Here’s the thing—when a movie gets as much acclaim as Parasite has, it’s easy to have one of two reactions to it. The first is to simply assume that it really is that good and deserves that much acclaim. The other is to assume that it doesn’t and to be prepared to dislike it. I try to go into movies as even-minded as I can. I want to like what I watch, and I try not to have too much of an opinion. I knew very little of the plot of Parasite going in, but I knew that people loved it. I was prepared to like it. And like it I did.
This is a smart movie. From the opening moments to the close, this is a movie where terrible things happen and people are themselves terrible, but no one is dumb. I have a great deal of respect for that.
The biggest question that comes up is who is being referred to in the title. The natural thought, I think, is that the Kims are the parasites. They’re the ones who are living off the success of the Parks. They become dependent on the Parks for everything. But maybe it’s the Parks who are the true parasites. While Dong-ik is employed and makes a great deal of money, the family needs the support of many people outside of themselves to simply function. There’s another possible answer, of course, but that way lies spoilers.
I’ll be blunt—there’s nothing about this movie I didn’t like. It’s smart, it’s well-filmed, and while the characters are frequently terrible, they are never boring.
Why to watch Parasite: The first foreign language movie to win Best Picture, and for a reason.
Why not to watch: If you’re the type who freaks out movies that aren’t in English, you need not apply.