Spoiler Alert: This item is intended for those who’ve already watched “Parasite,” which opens Oct. 11; it contains plot spoilers including a description of the film’s ending.
If you’re thirsty for a new Jordan Peele movie, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is your tall glass of water (or murky glass of makgeolli). Much like Get Out, it deftly combines comedy, horror, and social commentary; and much like Us, it pits families on either side of the class divide against each other. Needless to say, it has won critical acclaim: After becoming the first South Korean film to nab the Palme d’Or at Cannes back in May, it’s currently clocking a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s the #73 top-rated movie of all-time on IMDB, and it received rapturous applause following its New York premiere at the New York Film Festival on Saturday.
Introducing the film at Alice Tully Hall, Bong assured the audience that this one was nothing like Mother, the dark murder mystery he showed there a decade ago, and was instead a “very happy, soft, bright” movie fit for the entire family. The audience– who also knew Bong as the director of the grim class-struggle film Snowpiercer, which will get a TV adaptation next year– laughed at what was clearly a joke, but the first half of the film does indeed play out almost like a screwball comedy.
The Kims, a down-on-its-luck family of four scraping by in a basement apartment, gradually insinuate themselves into the lives of the wealthy Park family, orchestrating an elaborate plan to get the Parks’ domestic help fired, one by one, and replace them. Eventually, all four of the Kims are working for the Parks and are comfortably installed in their Architectural Digest-worthy modernist home, though they keep their family ties and their poverty secret. (After all, the Park paterfamilias, the workaholic CEO of a successful IT firm, is disgusted by the smell of lowly people on the subway, and his wife can’t even remember the last time she was on a subway.)
The film is based partly on Bong’s experience. During a Q&A, he recalled that as a college student, he tutored a middle-school boy for a wealthy family. “One day the boy took me to the second floor of their house and showed me their private sauna. I remember being very surprised to find a private sauna in the house.” A similar sauna appears in the film.
If you’ve seen Parasite (and again, don’t keep reading if you haven’t) then you know that Joker isn’t the only film at the New York Film Festival that shows how class resentment, among other things, can drive a man to murder. When Ki-Woo Kim discovers that his father (played by Korean cinema legend Song Kang Ho) has essentially trapped himself in the fallout shelter underneath the Park home, he vows to earn enough money to one day buy the ultra-luxurious house and set him free so they can live happily ever after there. For a moment, it seems as if this has actually happened, but then we see it remains a fantasy. A glimmer of self-doubt in Ki-Woo’s eye indicates this will probably end up being a dream deferred.
But could Ki-Woo eventually save up enough to buy the house? After all, he was enterprising enough to get his family ensconced there– albeit as servants, and disastrously– to begin with. And if Bong, the director, could study at Yonsei University and go on to become one of South Korea’s most respected and highest-grossing auteurs, then why can’t Ki-Woo parlay his (counterfeit) Yonsei diploma into similar success?
During the Q&A, Woo-sik Choi– who plays Ki-Woo– put those hopes to rest by revealing the meaning behind the song that plays as the credits roll. The song, written by Bong, is about how Ki-Woo “spent his days working in part-time jobs, saving up his money,” explained Woo-sik. “The title, first it was ‘564 Years.'” That number, he explained, was the amount of time it would take for Ki-Woo to save enough money to buy the house.
Bong elaborated: “We factored in his average salary to figure out how long it would take. So when he tells his dad that all he has to do is come up the stairs and announces that he will buy the house, as people in the audience we all know that that’s impossible.”
“It’s a very cruel calculation,” Bong admitted, “but we did it anyway.”
“Parasite” has one more showing tonight, Oct. 7, at the New York Film Festival before opening Oct. 11.