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  • Bruce Klein

Parasite: A Tragic Opera Without Music

In the film Parasite, poor family is enlivened when their son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) gets a job tutoring English to Da-hye (Jeong Ji-so) a girl from a rich family. Ki-woo gets his sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam) a job giving De-hye “ art therapy lessons.” Then the housekeeper leaves her job in an unusual way, and the chauffeur is fired.

The mother of the rich family, Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) replaces the housekeeper with the poor family’s mother, Choong-sook (Jang Hye-jin), while her husband replaces the chauffeur with the poor families’ father, Kim Ki-taek (Kang-Ho Song). The poor family seems to be on their way from escaping extreme poverty. Everything seems to work out at first but then deteriorates step by step.


Instead of enjoying their charade and collecting their pay, they infringe and “cross over the line” that separates the servants-and tutors-from their employers. The son acts on romantic feelings for his student. The poor daughter imposes her will on the rich mother and daughter, so much so that she controls them. The poor mother who becomes housekeeper spies on them. The father working as chauffeur befriends the hapless overworked husband, and surreptitiously slips him insults.


The poor family starts to consider their employees’ house as theirs. When the family goes on a trip, the poor family goes astray and becomes entangled in a subplot with the dismissed housekeeper. At this point, everyone starts to slip out of reality. Strangeness and fear abound. Along the way, we meet the former housekeeper’s husband who has bearing on the house and rich family in a unique and unexpected way. When the family returns early from the trip, the mother throws an impromptu barbecue in the serene back yard. The beautiful back yard turns into a hideous mess.


In the end, both the wealthy homeowners and the new interlopers are severely affected. Both families’ lived in different circumstances and suffer in different ways. This modern opera has no singing but the tale is told through words and dancing. The poor impersonators dance around their employers and their employers dance but want to maintain control in every step. In the epilogue of the movie, the poor son is featured on his own.


Parasite is a fantastic tale that pulls us in. It is underlined by class warfare. There is abstract similarities to another Oscar nominated movie from 2019 “Jojo Rabbit.” In that movie, played as Juvenilia satire, the clash is between two sides; one set out to rule the world and the other to free the world. In “Parasite,” a struggle comes about between the rich and the poor. The two movies are not coincidental. The current struggles in the world reflect their themes.


Parasite shares its surreal feeling with the work of Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Parasite’s writer/director Bong Joon Ho must be familiar with Murakami’s work or he received it telepathically. The oddness of these cross-cultural ties is striking. Murakami is Japanese and Boon is Korean. Historically, Japan and Korea have experienced terrible conflicts, especially from World War II. So, to have each country’s story teller bridge these two art forms is totally unexpected.


This movie may be a warning of future dystopia. It shows the world coming apart. Boon is masterful at creating a frightening drama with a bit of black-comic relief. The principal actors seem to fit into these roles with ease. Notably the wife of the “ruling class” family fits perfectly in the story. Her character is the root of this odd tale. Of course, the poor son pierces the bubble and the others join him. He begins and ends the tale. But in the middle, he seems to be hiding. Maybe he is taking a breather so he can go on to the finish.


This tale is for mature adults who are ready to see extreme violence on the screen. It requires interpretation if one is looking for meaning. Although it’s sub-rosa, meaning is implied. But like opera, much of it is strongly portrayed fantasy but may have an intended social message like Boon’s Snowpiecer. Boon is anti-capitalistic so the paths lead to those ends I suspect. There is so much tragic opera that one could just see it in those terms and miss the politics. The film employs a sly dark humor; just enough of a dose to get you through the film. Don’t expect to get the giggles.