Do not read anything (else) before watching Parasite. The trailer left me with more questions than answers, and I like that about a trailer.
The delight of the experience itself, is in not having any expectations and if you approach this movie right I know that you will be amazed and enthralled. If you’re reading this before seeing the film for the first time, hopefully you’ve avoided much of the hype surrounding it after it was awarded Best Picture and Best Foreign Picture at the Oscars. It’s a modern reinvention of a classic movie possessing a few genuinely thrilling heart-in-the-mouth moments, some well constructed cinematography and a comedy vehicle for brilliantly funny characters. The success is the emphasis on building a solid plot that many viewers can relate to and it completely ignores brash special effects. It has those “Ki Ki Ki” moments that director Bong Joon-ho intended sprinkled throughout the picture— Parasite is a smart and wonderfully grounded snapshot of the gulf between wealthy and poor in South Korea. Each character in the poorer Kim family shows a cunning whit and stoic determination to survive.
The Kim family; Father Ki-taek Kim, mother Chung-sook Kim, daughter Ki-jung Kim & of course Ki-woo— live together in a semi-basement in an apartment block in the heart of an economically deprived community, assembling pizza boxes for cash to get by. As they barely make enough money to fund their Wi-Fi habits, they seek other ways to make-ends-meet.
A way out of the dank semi-basement presents itself; Min-hyuk presents a potential money making opportunity to Ki-woo and recommends that he teaches English to Da-hye, daughter of the gullible and well to do Park family, whom trusts Min-hyuk’s recommendation of Ki-woo and his knowledge of the English language. Dong-ik Park is often away on business leaving his wife, Yeon-gyo Choi and children, Da-hye Park and son Da-song Park, to reside in a beautiful home with many of the luxuries that the Kim family could only dream of having. Yeon-gyo decides to employ Ki-woo (or “Kevin”, his given English name) giving him his chance to oversell his abilities as a teacher and a role model. As each member of the Kim family is recommended into the house to take up household roles, the Parks are oblivious to their close relationship as family.
The Park family begin to show their true nature, as their contempt for the world outside of their gated compound becomes clear. Da-song is only a young boy but he makes multiple references to the way the Mr. Kim and the other household help all smell alike. So the Kim’s become agitated that Da-song will give away their plot using common sense association and that they will soon be discovered. From here on in there are spoilers, I’ve set up shop.
Throughout the movie, the momentum builds very gently as you see the Kim family in complete control as they do all that they can to intelligently work their feet under the table in the Park family home, and with ballsy confidence. Ki-woo introduces his sister Ki-jung as ‘Jessica’ an art psychologist when Ki-woo notices Da-song’s paintings on the wall. Ki-jung is then given a lift home by the chauffeur and leaves her underwear behind for Dong-ik to find, creating doubts and discontent and pushing Dong-ik to sack his trusted employee. She then recommends Mr Kim as her ‘uncle’ and trusted executive driver of many years. Mr Kim creates an instant rapport with the busy executive Dong-ik, and begins to work on him whilst driving him between business meetings and the family home, eventually forging a way for Chung-sook to begin as the only live-in member of the house as housekeeper.
The name ‘parasite’ seems to characterise the way that the Kim family attach themselves to their hosts the Park family, swiftly and without fuss making themselves invaluable members of the household. The story was largely based on the Korean “domestic Gothic” film ‘The Housemaid’ released in 1960. In this, a middle-class family is under threat by the arrival of Myung-sook as he offers his services as household help in a bid to disrupt their way of life for his own ends. The Housemaid received acclaim at home in South Korea at the time. As Korean cinema becomes more of a global interest now, more people are becoming aware of the nuances and brilliance of the genre. In 2003, The Housemaid, that served as a source of inspiration to Parasite director Bong, was listed in the book ‘1001 films to see before you die’ by Steven Schneider. Without doubt Parasite will be considered a sturdy and time wearing picture and will ease its way into the next list.
When the Park family attempt a camping trip, the Kim family decide to vacate their meagre lodgings and spend a couple of nights at the expansive Park household. A storm forces them to return home earlier than planned, panic ensures as the Kim’s scramble to make everything as it was. They wildly hide the evidence of their unauthorised presence, and hide under the coffee table moments before their tightly woven scheme unravelled. The Kim’s could now face very grave consequences. All at once, the comedy stops and their feeling of being at ease has turned on it’s head; the Kim’s realise that they may have bitten off more than they can chew. Up to this point, the Park family have no reason to believe that the Kim’s have created this craftily constructed web of lies, and should their attachment be revealed, the Park’s will feel cheated and release them all from their now comfortable employment and generous remuneration packages.
Joon-ho went to great lengths to ensure the feel and authenticity of the set, building the apartment block complex and surrounding streets in a water tank so that it could be flooded with real water in order to replicate and deliver the genuine despair and anguish of a real family losing their home. The Park’s lavishly decorated and artistically designed home was constructed at great expense and to scale with only a couple of the scenes filmed on a set in a studio—This was to greater emphasize the authentic feel of the movie, and allow the actors to live it out as the characters would themselves.
For me, the contrasts in the way either of the two families operates explains how humanity polarises itself at either end of the social spectrum. They often deal with one another with contempt and disapproval without truly understanding one another. Socially they will attempt to rationalise their behaviour, but they will never really understand what it is like on the other side. Not all rich people are like the Park family, however they epitomise the worst of that social group. They don’t accept the Kim family as they are, they need them to conform to their way of living for them to be acceptable. The Kim’s are ruthless and cunning, but they show an extreme desperation that a family with nothing would feel. With all of that in mind, the attention to detail and near perfect tone and pace of the film itself, you can see why it received both the Best Picture and Best Foreign Picture awards this year. I won’t spoil the rest of it, I’ve probably already said too much.
Parasite will be released on April 8th for Hulu, and on June 1st for DVD and Blu-Ray.
For the meal, I’ve decided against the pairing of ‘Ram-dom’ with this movie (the dish requested by Yeon-gyo) as it’s just two packets of instant noodles mixed with fried sirloin cubes. It isn’t exactly authentic, as the intention of this entirely fictional Korean dish in the movie was to provide a small snack for young Da-song. I’ve decided that the trusty and hearty Bibimbap with added vegetables would be a more suitable and rounded evening meal to accompany Parasite, as it’s very filling, authentic and packed with rich flavors that would find their way from a real Korean home kitchen.
We sourced many of our ingredients from a local Asian market, if you can buy authentic then please do, because it really pays off and you’ll thank me later. We picked up a tub of Gochujang spicy sauce base which is thicker and requires the right amounts of cider vinegar and soy to soften into a wonderfully spicy accompaniment.
- 2 cups white rice
- 1 large sirloin steak
- 4 tbs soy sauce
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbs sesame seeds
- 70g spinach
- Carrots chopped into matchsticks
- Thumb-sized cube of ginger
- Vegetable oil
- 4 tbs soy sauce
- 1 tbs Gochujang
- 2 tbs cider vinegar
We also picked up Sujo rice wine ‘Jinro Chamisul’ in the original flavor variety, as it’s one of the most popular brands in South Korea, and at ABV 20.1% it’s a little stronger than expected. It has a clean taste as it’s filtered through bamboo charcoal to remove any impurities, so you can feel that in how smooth it feels on the palate.
Firstly, boil a pan of water, added a generous pinch of sea salt, rinse the uncooked rice in a sieve with cold water to remove excess starch. This makes the rice fluffy without it all sticking together. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan until they brown and remove to a bowl. After this, pour the soy sauce into another bowl and added the sirloin steak (without slicing) to marinate in the soy, leave this in the fridge for 20 mins.
Whilst waiting for the steak to marinate, slice the carrot into matchsticks, and peel and slice the ginger into thin pin like lengths, add a small amount of vegetable oil to the frying pan and heat until hot. Add the carrots and ginger and fry for 3 minutes until soft and add the spinach and continue to heat until the spinach has wilted and remove from the heat to a bowl, sprinkling on the toasted sesame seeds from earlier. Add the rice to the now boiling pan of water.
With the frying pan, add the marinated sirloin and discard the soy it was marinating in. Fry the steak hot for 3 minutes on a high heat until browning, turn over to fry a further 3 minutes, then remove to a chopping board to rest, cover in tin foil. Now check and remove the now cooked rice and drain, serving the rice to two bowls.
After the steak has rested 5 mins, slice the sirloin thinly and lay it across the top of the rice. Put the pan back on the heat and add 2 eggs and fry sunny side up, so that the yolks are soft and runny. Add the carrot, spinach & ginger to the steak and rice, and top with a fried egg.
Quickly whisk in a small mixing bowl the sauce ingredients, adding more Gochujang or fresh chili for a spicy palate. Add the sauce to the dinner table, with some canned kimchi on the side.
잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meokgesseumnida) – “Thank you for preparing this, I will have a good meal”