Saturday, May 2, 2020


Film: Parasite (Gisaengchung)
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.


  1. Definitely one of the great surprises of the last decade as my mother saw it twice. She showed the film to a friend as she told her friends and such. The fact that it won the Palme d'Or, gaining all sorts of buzz and acclaim, landing on many top 10 critics list, winning a bunch of awards, and then steal the show at the Oscars winning 4 Oscars including Best Picture. How can you not love that? That was one of the best wins ever as I hadn't felt this good since the Atlanta United won the MLS Cup in their second year as a franchise.

    1. If nothing else, it was cool to watch this happen. That it's also a great film means at least some of that acclaim is warranted.

  2. Gisaeng-choong is a generic term for a parasite (I just looked it up in a Korean-Korean dictionary), but chohn-choong is specifically a tapeworm. I need to ask around and see whether Koreans immediately think of tapeworms when they hear the Korean word for parasite. It's not impossible; we anglophones immediately think of either tapeworms or ticks when we hear the word "parasite."

    I reviewed this movie back before it had won its Oscars; I thought it showed great artistry in terms of its direction, cinematography, and symbolism, but I wasn't on board with Bong's Marxist class-warfare message (a drum he beats in most of his films), and I had trouble understanding how an obviously talented family like the Kims hadn't found legitimate work before latching on to the Parks. How could such brilliant people end up folding pizza boxes... and badly, at that? Otherwise, I thought it was an excellent film that would provoke plenty of discussion.

    1. Not having an English/Korean dictionary leaves me at the mercy of Google Translate in a case like this. The offer "gisaengmul" as the word for parasite. Going from Korean to English, "gisaengchung" is untranslated. Using the Korean characters for the name of the movie, 기생충 translates as "helminth," which is a parasitic worm like a tapeworm or nematode. So that's what I went with. I blame Google Translate and perhaps my own unwitting trust of them.

      I think Bong leaves the question of who the parasites are as a kind of open question. I think it could be easily translated in either direction. In fact, I htink this answers the question of why the Kims live like they do. Sure, they have talents--particularly Ki-jung (Jessica to the Parks). But they are also phenomenally lazy, doing just barely enough to get by. They're struggling because they're doing just enough to get to the point of not being homeless. It's why the Parks are such a goldmine for them--they are wealthy and naive, and the Kims are naturals at exploiting that, doing just enough to make it work.

    2. Google Translate is weird and not to be trusted when translating Asian languages. You apparently have to type in "parasites," with an "s," to get the Korean word "gisaengchung."

      You could be right that the Kim family starts off as lazy, but given how competently they played their roles once ensconced in the Park family's home, I'd say they dropped the laziness with suspicious suddenness, and that in itself begs an explanation.

  3. Getting this out of the way before its absolutely-inevitable addition to the List, I take it? I don't blame you. :D

    "A lot of people rooting for it" at the Oscars included myself; it was one of the few films I'd managed to see in theaters that year, and it ended up being one of those kinds of films where I couldn't find any real fault with it at all. I remember being kinda let down that 1917 seemed to be the frontrunner going into the ceremony (though I hadn't seen that one yet), having won most of the precursor awards for Picture and especially Director, and I was mentally preparing myself to concede at least Best Director to Sam Mendes, but still remaining uncertain about Picture. Then Spike Lee paused, and read Bong Joon-ho's name, and that sharp thrill of an upset win put the thought into my head: Maybe this could win Best Picture after all... Could it really happen? I almost couldn't believe it when it did, and that feeling was quickly replaced by adulation: A foreign language film finally won Best Picture. It's one of those Oscar moments like the mis-reading of the Best Picture winner of 2016 that I'll probably remember the feeling of it happening for the rest of my life.

    I will definitely echo your comment about not going further into the plot than you have to: its Palme d'Or win, its rapturous reception on Letterboxd, and the general recommendation to go into it knowing almost nothing about it was what got me into the theater to see the film in the first place. Of course, it will make it hard to talk about when it comes time for me to review it as well, and I can guess that it was a little stymieing for you to try and do the same. I do agree with just about everything you have managed to say, though. I especially like your comment about respecting the film for being smart, and I agree; this film is intelligent, both with the setup of the plot and how it goes about it, and really with just about every aspect of its creation.

    I haven't seen this since my initial theatrical viewing, and that's really something I'd like to rectify sooner rather than later; preferably not having to wait until October/November when the new 1001 edition comes out. I don't have a Hulu account, however; this might be one that I'll pick up the Blu-Ray of, just to have it on hand to rewatch whenever the mood strikes me.

    BTW, Parasite wasn't the only Bong Joon-ho film Hulu picked up in its deal; I think there were four of his films they got the rights to, in case you or anyone else are interested, or want to go on a Bong Joon-ho kick for whatever reason.

    1. Well, it will certainly be on The List, but it's on my current Oscar list anyway, so two birds, one review.

      Nothing makes me happier than when a filmmaker respects my intelligence as a member of the audience. I remember being so pleased with a film like Ex Machina because it was smart and it wanted me to be smart, too. It predicted what I would think and then went out of its way to show me I was wrong.

      Parasite doesn't do that, but it does want me to be smart enough to follow what is happening.

  4. Just the fact that you watched this movie in the basement makes me laugh uncontrollably. Though it's your basement and not someone else's, I presume.