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Film / Parasite (2019)

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official international poster for Parasite

Act like you own the place.

Parasite is a 2019 South Korean tragicomedy directed by Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer, Okja). It premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and received the Palme d'Or.

The Kims are a very poor family of four, consisting of unemployed driver Kim Ki-taek, his wife Chung-sook, his daughter Ki-jeong and his son Ki-woo. Both children are in their early twenties, and they are also unemployed and not in school due to financial restraints.

One day Ki-woo is hired by the wealthy Park family as an English teacher for their high school-aged daughter Da-hye. Ki-woo sees this as an opportunity to benefit his whole family, and the Kims eventually trick the Parks into hiring all of them — Ki-jeong becomes the young son Da-song's art therapist, Ki-taek the family driver, and Chung-sook the new housekeeper. The family revels in their newfound income and opportunity, but revelations threaten to unravel the whole affair.


Please put single-character tropes on the character sheet.

Parasite provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: When Chung-sook kicks Moon-gwang down a flight of stairs. It's not the fall that kills her, but the concussion she suffers from as a result.
  • Auto Erotica: Invoked. Ki-jeong leaves her underwear in the car to make it seem like the driver likes having sex there. This makes the Parks uncomfortable enough that they fire him.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • As the Kims drunkenly feast in the Parks' home, Ki-taek becomes angered by a comment from Chung-sook, sweeping the contents of the table onto the floor and grabbing her by the shirt collar. But she just smiles at him, and after a tense beat, they both burst out laughing. She puts him in a playful wrist-lock, causing him to cry in mock pain. For whatever their flaws, the Kims are not an abusive household.
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    • It also seems that Ki-woo will be the one to die, as he's unconscious and being carried by a panicked-looking Da-hye, during the party. However, he surprisingly survives, having undergone surgery, while Ki-jeong, having initially seemed in a much better and conscious state after being stabbed, actually dies.
  • Batman Gambit: The Kims pull off a series of these in order to infiltrate the Park household.
  • Beauty Inversion: An interview confirms that Choi Woo-shik, as Ki-woo, was deliberately styled to look worse next to a character like Min, who is reasonably wealthy. Among other things, he's given an unflattering haircut and conspicuously lower-quality clothing.
  • Big Fancy House: The Parks' home is lavish, spacious, and modern, specifically designed by a famous architect. It serves as a contrast to the Kims' cramped semi-basement.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Da-song was deeply shaken during a previous birthday party. In the present day, his birthday party ends with the deaths of Ki-jeong, Mr. Park and Moon-gwang's husband, and deeply traumatizes both families.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Though it leans more to the bitter part. Despite being eventually released from the authorities when their crime was caught, and regretting it enough to commit only to honest work from then on, the Kim family lost Ki-jeong, they lost all their newfound wealth, the Parks lost their father and patriarch, and both Moon-gwang and her husband died tragically, without ever being able to tell their misgivings to the world. It is implied that Ki-woo finally worked honestly to earn as much money as he can to buy the Park family's former house, but it is left ambiguous.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Despite not being totally evil in the beginning, the Kim family do increasingly bad and (albeit hilariously) horrendous things to deceive the Park family because of their poor upbringing. They feel justified because they are poor and need to survive by all means. Moon-gwang and her husband turned for the worse after they realized that the Kim family had duped them, but then what they wanted is only Moon-gwang's husband to have some occasional replenishment due to being incapable for working anymore and unfit to be taken care of by the National Pension. Meanwhile, the Parks are portrayed as decent people despite their immense naivety, insensitivity, and classism throughout the story.
  • Black Comedy: The first half of the movie is rich with this one, ranging from Ki-jeong deliberately putting her own panties in the Park family's car to make it seem that their driver likes having car sex in his own employer's car, to Ki-jeong bullshitting Yeon-kyo with faux artistic lessons… At least until the Cerebus Syndrome kicks in.
  • Blackmail: Moon-gwang and her husband have the Kim family under her thumb because of a revealing video clip.
  • Book-Ends: The movie opens with a shot on socks hanging out to dry and ends the same way.
  • Boomerang Bigot: The Kims appear to be horrified that Moon-gwang is hiding her husband in the Parks' basement and accuse her of being a scrounger taking advantage of the Moon-gwang is horrified that the Kims are a family of scammers. They both appear to be totally sincere in these beliefs.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: While Moon-gwang's Evil Gloating is understandable (and hilarious), her and Geun-se's lording it over the Kim family ultimately gives the Kims the opportunity to re-gain the upper hand.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: A central theme in the movie, which focuses on how social stratification takes a toll on the characters.
    Bong Joon-ho (director): Rather than water being important in itself, water flows from top to bottom. I think that's the tragic and sad element in this film. Water always flows from the rich to the poor, it never flows the other way.
  • Central Theme: The opposition between social classes, a recurring theme in Bong Joon-ho's filmography.
  • Cerebus Syndrome:
    • The return of Moon-gwang to Mr. Park's house after she got fired is a huge one, marking the apparent shift from the film's comedic undertone to a more dramatic turn. Though it still has comedic moments until the climax.
    • The running gag of Ki-taek smelling bad comes back in a big way during the climax.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The stone. Ki-woo considers using it as a weapon against a drunk man, then carries it everywhere. Later on, Moon-gwang's husband uses the same stone to hit Ki-woo on the head twice to a great effect. Though he gets better.
    • When Moon-gwang shows up to the house, she mentions that she cut the cord on the CCTV across the street so no one would see her enter the house. While that sets up that she has a secret reason to want to be there, the camera also lingers on it later on to explain why no one saw Kim Ki-taek sneak back into the house to hide in the basement.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Morse code also plays important roles during the movie, where Moon-gwang's husband uses the code to communicate to the outside world and in the epilogue, Kim uses the same code to tell his condition to his family after escaping from the authorities.
    • That Ki-jeong was a Boy Scout also means that he, like Da-song, can understand Morse Code when Ki-taek uses it to communicate with him at the end of the film.
    • Although it isn't as important, Chung-sook is a former athlete, so it makes sense that she'd be able to get the upper hand on several people throughout the film.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Downplayed. While Da-song is eating his birthday cake in the middle of the night, he sighted Geun-sae coming out of the basement. Thinking that was a ghost, he ran upstairs and had a bad seizure afterward.
  • Dirty Commies: North Korea is brought up a few times for the sake of jokes. Which foreshadows the presence of the Parks' unknown bunker- the original owners of the house had it built because they feared a communist invasion.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Ki-taek, Mrs. Park, and Da-song are all blank-faced at various points during the film's climax. Justified; they're in shock. Ki-taek even says he was hoping the chaos would turn out to be All Just a Dream. In Mrs. Park and Da-song's cases, however, they pass out shortly after they've reached the point of blank-faced disbelief. For Ki-taek, there really is no waking up and escaping from the aftermath.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The Kim family acts as a parasite to the Parks, leeching off jobs and money from them. Meanwhile, the housekeeper's husband acts as a more literal example, eating the family's food for years completely undetected. The film also suggests that the Parks themselves are parasites, happily (and obliviously) sustaining themselves on the misery of people in the lower classes.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Mrs. Park is delighted to hire so many new employees based on recommendation because she assumes they'll be good workers, even referring to it as a "belt of faith". Too bad the audience has been watching the Kims essentially scam her this whole time.
    • Likewise, Mrs. Park obliviously commenting about what a blessing the rain had been because it will mean nice weather for her son's birthday party. This is right after the devastating scenes of the Kims losing everything because of the floodwaters caused by the same rains. Unbeknownst to her, Ki-taek hears her comments and seethes.
  • Due to the Dead: In one of the closing scenes, Ki-taek digs a proper grave in the garden for Moon-gwang so she can rest in peace.
  • Eat the Rich: Present as a theme. The Kims are undoubtedly swindlers who take advantage of the Parks, but they also suffered poverty and lack of opportunity. While the Parks are presented fairly sympathetically, their wealth and comfort at the expense of the people in their service contrast very sharply to the living conditions and lifestyles of the Kims. This is ramped up by the end when Ki-taek, fed up with the Parks' Conspicuous Consumption and denigration of the lower classes, fatally stabs Mr. Park.
  • Epilogue Letter: The movie ends with two letters from Ki-taek and Ki-woo being read out by them for the audience.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In their opening scene, the Kims try to piggyback on a neighbor's wifi, establishing them as mooches. Ki-woo gets his own when he smooths out relations with a pizza shop owner and angles for an interview, establishing him as the scheming charmer of the family who will eventually spearhead all of their ploys with the Parks.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Despite their extremely brutal physical fight, Chung-sook and Ki-taek agree not to kill Moon-gwang and her husband, and choose instead to go back to them. Unfortunately, it's too late.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Downplayed; Da-song and Ki-woo can recognize a Morse code message as they're current or former Scouts, but still require time to translate it. Nobody else catches on to the source of the code, which is the entryway lights — Geun-se, and later Ki-taek, use a code taped to the wall next to the switch in the bunker.
  • Fanservice: The so-termed couch scene is prominently featured in at least one official poster, but in context it has a lot of Fan Disservice elements.
  • Foil:
    • The Parks to the Kims. Both are nuclear families, but the Parks are wealthy, distant, and live uphill; the Kims are poor, tight-knit, and live in a basement.
    • The Kims to Moon-gwang and her husband. They were all poor people from the same street, driven to the same disparity by unemployment, and had the same idea to live off of salary and pickings from the Parks family, only Moon-gwang came first and her plans were even less morally grey then the Kim family. Their competition for the place as the Park family's secret parasite quickly drawn ugly sides out of all members of both families.
  • Foreshadowing: Several, in fact.
    • In the beginning, the Kim family leaves the window open as a gust of fumigation smoke enters their apartment. They leave it open again before a massive storm floods their whole home.
    • When Chung-sook allows Moon-gwang in, Moon-gwang does briefly clock in that Chung-sook left a mess of a meal but comments on it blithely as if she relates to Chung-sook's transgression. This hints that Moon-gwang had done other transgressions as a housekeeper.
    • Whenever Mr. Park enters the house, watch the lights.
    • As Ki-woo tries to get rid of a drunk man with a bottle of water, and another neighbor throws a bucket of water at them, Ki-jeong records the commotion and comments, "What a deluge." Later, their semi-basement house gets completely flooded by heavy rain.
    • Mr. Park complains that Moon-gwang eats enough for two people, though we never actually see her eat. Later, we learn that she's been feeding her husband in the Parks' bunker with the extra serving of food.
    • When enjoying their newfound employment, Ki-taek wonders about his not-so-lucky neighbor who got trapped in debts after his Taiwan cake shop went bankrupt. The neighbor is, in fact, Moon-gwang's husband, who ran away from debt collectors after his shop closed down.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: Park Da-song got obsessed with Native Americans after spending time as a Cub Scout. Mrs Park is obsessed with American stuff and is completely won over because "Jessica" went to college in the USnote .
  • Genre Mashup: The closest definition to the film's genre, which combined Black Comedy with Tragedy elements, along with family drama and Thriller concepts being thrown into a single movie.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: After Choong-Sook kicked Moon-gwang into the underground bunker, we don't see how Moon-gwang got her concussion. But the results are obvious.
  • Gratuitous English: Usually from the well-educated English tutor "Kevin" (actually a dropout named Ki-woo, though he is genuinely fluent) and Americanized art therapist "Jessica" (actually a born-and-raised Korean girl named Ki-jeong). Mrs. Park happily slips into this when they're around, too.
  • Greed: Ki-taek family's driving ambition. They scheme to get increasingly more wealth out of the Parks. The film contrasts this with the more passive and insidious greed of the Parks, who live lives of abundance and luxury without ever thinking of people beyond themselves.
  • Home-Early Surprise: The Kims throw a party together at the Parks' place, assuming that the owners won't be back from their camping trip until the next day or so (despite the strong storm). Then Ms. Park phones in saying they will be back in 8 minutes. Cue an Oh, Crap! reaction.
  • Horrible Camping Trip: We don't see the trip itself, but this is the cause for the Home-Early Surprise. The thunderstorm caused the river to overflow but the Parks tried their best for Da-song before giving up altogether and turning back.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Mrs. Park is a depressed, drug-addled Stepford Smiler whose husband doesn't really love her, so it's pretty easy to see how the Kims' combination of ingenious subterfuge and emotional appeal manages to fool her so well. Mr. Park, however, doesn't catch on either, despite seeming more authoritative and reasonable than his wife. Meanwhile, Da-hye correctly suspects that Ki-woo knows "Jessica" (Ki-jeong) as more than a college acquaintance (if for the wrong reasons — she assumes they're dating) and Da-song, a little boy, actually comes the closest to realizing that something's up before the second half of the film.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Chung-sook and Ki-jeong having time to think things over and consider making amends with Moon-gwang and her husband. It's too late though.
    • One possible interpretation of the ending. The scene accompanying Ki-woo's reply letter implies he eventually made enough money by honest means to buy the house and let Ki-taek have another breath of fresh air and a touching reunion, only to snap back at the very last scene to Ki-woo finishing the letter… in his still rundown semi-basement house. The entire scene of Ki-woo earning money and buying the house is implied to be mere imagination.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The film deals heavily in this.
    • There is a Running Gag where the Parks regale the Kims with stories of terrible misdeeds done against them — such as mentioned in Auto Erotica — while the Kims, who are themselves con artists, feign horror.
    • Mrs. Park repeatedly tells the Kims that she is a good judge of character and that trust is all-important to her, immediately before being tricked by them.
  • Imagine Spot: At the end of the film, as Ki-woo is writing his letter to Ki-taek, he has one of these where he envisions himself buying the Park's former home so he can free Ki-taek from the bunker. One of the signs that it's just his imagination is that him, Ki-taek, and Chung-sook don't appear to have aged at all.
  • Incredibly Obvious Tail: The family gets tailed after the birthday incident and we see one clumsy detective stumbling while following Ki-woo.
  • Innocently Insensitive:
    • Mr. Park generally seems to be quite polite, but keeps making derogatory remarks about poor people (particularly their smell) while talking to Ki-taek, not realizing that the latter is also from the lower class. This enrages Ki-taek so much that he eventually stabs Park to death during the film's climax.
    • The Parks plans a lovely garden party last-minute and invite the Kims, not knowing that they had lost all their possessions in a flood and had to sleep in a gym along with other evacuees just the night before. Ki-woo muses on how relaxed, happy, and picture-perfect the upper-class is.
  • Irony: The ending implies that Ki-woo will ultimately earn enough money to buy the very house they wanted all this time, but through honest means and not through the social-climbing means that the Kims tried earlier in the movie, out of the regret of being caught for their crimes and the grief of having Ki-jeong dying in the climax of the movie.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Downplayed. When Ki-jeong is trying to make herself sound qualified by lying about her background, she doesn't claim to have an Ivy League degree but instead mentions having attended Illinois State University. It's an above-average university from a prestigious country (American universities having a good reputation in East Asia), and thus decently impressive already.
  • Karma Houdini: While Ki-taek becomes a fugitive after murdering Mr. Park, Ki-woo and Chung-sook are given little more than a slap on the wrist despite deceiving and exploiting the Parks, holding Geun-se hostage in the basement, and accidentally killing his wife.
  • Karmic Thief: Reconstructed. The Kims like to view themselves as this, but they are portrayed as genuine scammers who are exploiting their employers' trust... but, by the end of the film, it's clear that the Parks have no idea the damage that their wealth has done to others, and especially in the case of Mr Park, don't genuinely care at all.
  • Knows a Guy Who Knows a Guy: The Kims incrementally maneuver themselves into the Park household, with each new addition telling Mrs. Park about this great new person to hire that they know from [x]'s [y]'s [z]…
  • Laughing Mad: Downplayed. Upon getting released from the hospital following the disastrous birthday party where he lost his father and sister, Ki-woo narrates that all he could do was laugh at the situation.
  • Loan Shark: Evading them after falling into debt is the reason Geun-se is hiding out in the underground bunker.
  • Lower-Class Lout: The Kims are quite poor, and also dishonest vandals and scammers. Chung-sook also briefly mistreats animals.
  • Mama Bear: Chung-sook, who overpowers and literally skewers Geun-se after the latter stabs Ki-jeong. Subverted with Mrs. Park, who professes to be concerned for her children's welfare, but whose obliviousness and gullibility expose her kids to trauma and danger.
  • Meaningful Echo: Ki-woo repeating Min's previous statement about Da-hye word-for-word, to his family who do not know that Min said it first. It indicates that much of Ki-woo's social climbing is rooted in the desire to be more like stylish, cool, financially comfortable Min. Indeed, "What would Min do?" becomes his mantra as the film progresses, only for Ki-jeong to snap at him that Min wouldn't have gotten entangled in any of this.
  • Mister Muffykins: While not a malicious person, Mrs. Park is an Idle Rich lady who keeps three pampered dogs — cared for by the servants, of course.
  • Mood Whiplash: A Bong Joon-ho specialty. The movie rapidly and seamlessly switches back and forth between farcical comedy, high-suspense thriller and genuine tragedy. The most defining example of this trope is perhaps Chung-sook kicking Moon-gwang down the basement stairs in a slapstick manner before the latter could reveal herself to the Parks, causing her to fatally hit her head on a wall.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: Chung-sook is hands down the most fearsome member of the Kim family in a fight, with her daughter Ki-jeong fairly ruthless as well. Moon-gwang is also no slouch, although she is more closely matched by her husband.
  • National Stereotypes: After retreating into the underground bunker at the end of the film, Ki-taek finds out to his relief that the new German owners of the house live off of more than just beer and sausages.
  • Nuclear Family: Both the Kim and Park families consist of a husband, a wife, a daughter, and a son.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Da-song's obsession with the Native American culture led him to build a teepee in his bedroom and his home's backyard.
  • Offhand Backhand: Chung-sook pulls off a rather epic example when she knocks the rampaging Moon-gwang down the stairs so effortlessly that Mrs. Park who is standing close by doesn't even realize it.
  • Questionable Consent: Ki-woo, who is in his mid-20s, begins a relationship Da-hye, an underage high schooler whom he is tutoring.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Exploited by the Kims, who correctly predict that Mrs. Park will avoid sharing key information with her husband if it could reflect poorly on her.
  • Reading Your Rights: They are being read to Ki-woo in his hospital bed. He cannot stop laughing.
  • Red Herring: Originally, viewers are led to believe that Da-song's skill for being able to read Morse code would somehow reveal the truth behind the Kim family and Moon-gwang and her husband's true conditions since her husband used the codes to reveal Moon-gwang's death to Mr. Park's family. But at the time, Da-song's crash birthday party is on its way, and he apparently forgot to tell his findings to everyone. However, the Morse code does come back into play at the very end of the film, when Ki-taek uses the same method to send a message to Ki-woo.
  • Red Herring Twist: When the Parks come home early, the Kims have to clean up their mess very fast and the camera lingers suspiciously on the dirt under the sofa. Later their trash seems to have disappeared and the Parks don't detect the smell of alcohol even though they can smell Ki-taek who is hidden under the table.
  • Relative Error: Da-hye initially mistakes Ki-woo and Ki-jeong — or rather Kevin and Jessica — for boyfriend and girlfriend.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • Da-song’s creepy drawings of a wide-eyed man with white pupils? It’s of Geun-sae, the “ghost” he saw on the night of his birthday and Moon-gwang’s husband.
    • Watch the lights each time Mr. Park enters the house.
    • When Moon-gwang goes down to get some plum extract from the basement, she seems rather astonished by Mrs. Park following her and calling her name. Note how she’s right in front of the cabinet which hides the bunker.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • According to Min, the stone he gifts them is supposed to bring them wealth. Fittingly, Ki-woo says it keeps clinging to him throughout the film, and eventually almost dies by being hit on the head with it. Following this, Ki-woo leaves it in the river, symbolizing his desire to rise through society honestly this time.
    • The Kims are poor and live underground. The Parks live uphill and never use the metro.
    • Also, the smell of poverty, although only Mr Park mentioned it. It eventually became the final trigger for the tragic conclusion of the film.
    • The Cowboys and Indians motif reflects the arrival of a group of newcomers to push out the house's previous inhabitants.
  • Sanity Slippage:
    • After Moon-gwang dies from a severe concussion in her head, her husband absolutely can't take it well, and goes on a final rampage to kill all members of the Kim family.
    • The silent denigration Ki-taek felt when he repeatedly overheard Mr. Park mention "the queer scent he couldn't describe, but can detect from Ki-taek and from the metro" , combined with helping the Parks throw a lavish birthday party right after the night they evacuated from their completely flooded house (after a brawl and a miserable escape in the rain) did a hefty number on Ki-taek's dignity and sanity. When he sees Mr. Park reeling from the smell of Moon-gwang's husband, he finally snaps and fatally stabs Mr Park in the chest.
  • Secret Room: The secret bunker below the actual basement, designed by the architect of the house in case the North Koreans invade. The entrance is hidden behind a set of cupboards and was never disclosed to the Park family when they bought the house.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mr. Park's company is named "Another Brick."
    • The architecht of the Parks' house is named Nam Goong - which shares the same name with Song Kang-ho's character in Bong's previous film Snowpiercer.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: Viewed through the lens of social stratification. The lower class Kims are the Slobs, while the upper-class Parks are the Snobs; the Parks are polite but privately look down on poor people, while the Kims scam the Parks.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To the previous Palme d'Or winner Shoplifters. Both share the same premise of an eccentric family in poverty trying to make their living by committing petty crime, and came from neighboring countries in East Asia (South Korea and Japan). The major difference is that Shoplifters explores the theme of familial bonding with Lighter and Softer tone, whereas Parasite is more Darker and Edgier take on that premise with pitch-dark comedy. Film critic Justin Chang summed it up on twitter after seeing it at Cannes: "PARASITE is like SHOPLIFTERS on pricey Korean bath salts".
  • Theremin: The instrument can be heard on the soundtrack when father, son and daughter flee the house in the pouring rain. It probably connects to the fact that the owner's son believed in a ghost haunting the house.
  • Tragedy: What the film is ultimately about. While Ki-woo's original goal is to earn some honest money for his unemployed family, he and the rest of his family eventually got blinded with Greed and it became their reason of downfall in the movie.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailers give the impression that Parasite will be about the Kim family having to contend with the Parks' Creepy Child, Da-song. In actuality, Da-song is an eccentric but harmless kid, and the true antagonists are former housekeeper Moon-gwang and her husband, the latter of whom is completely absent from the previews.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Ki-taek and Chung-sook are perfectly in sync with each other as ruthless grifters, and their relationship is actually quite honest, affectionate and playful. As the movie goes on, it is revealed that Moon-gwang and Geun-se are in a similar position, as they do love each other yet engage in their own deceptions and power plays. Ironically it is the well-off, outwardly perfect Parks who have the most distant marriage.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Min, whose recommendation of Ki-woo as an English tutor sets off the whole chain of events that follows.
  • Wham Shot: Who would have thought that the Park family's house has an underground bunker in which the sickly husband of the former housekeeper currently lives?


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