Bearing the brunt of the Cold War, The United States and the Soviet Union divided Korea into two sovereign states in 1948 with the border set at the 38th parallel. In the South, an export-led economic boom, industrialization, and technological advances created an enviably prosperous state. In the current world, the capitalist South Korea is a highly developed country that has the world’s 11th biggest nominal GDP, boasting the title of the world’s 5th largest exporter and 8th largest importer. Not only does it have one of the best healthcare and education systems in the world, it has also been named the world’s most innovative country over the last six consecutive years by Bloomberg Innovation index. In stark contrast, the socialist state in the North has focused on military buildup and solidifying power in a dictatorial political system, rather than on economic development, education, and healthcare. As a result, 40 percent of the North Korean population is now directly affected by malnutrition. Yet it is only one of the many pressing problems in the country due to the fact that democracy, freedom of expression and general human rights have been denied its citizens since ‘the deviation’. If we look at the two Koreas now, they have ended up being as different as night and day.
Bon Joon-ho is a film director from South Korea. His film ‘Parasite’ won the most prestigious award ‘Palme d’Or’ at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. This made him the first ‘Korean’ film director honored with such an accolade. Even before, he was familiar to movie-goers predominantly for his ‘Snowpiercer’, an astonishing film showing what happens when climate engineering goes horribly wrong and the Earth gets blanketed in ice and snow and only a few thousand people survive – some wealthy and privileged, but most destitute and desperate. They all ride a super train (named Snowpiercer), a billionaire’s project that extends for miles and is equipped to ride on the railroad tracks until the Earth becomes habitable again. The rich live in splendor in the front of the train, while the underprivileged must cope with the squalor in the back of the train. With that film we can understand how good Bon Joon-ho is at illustrating social inequalities, that even in the most extreme circumstances when survival is uncertain, we are still divided into social classes. Most importantly, we see how unfairly the lowest class is treated. That film won general critical acclaim and the success of ‘Parasite’ has proved yet again Bon Joon-ho’s sure touch and expertise. From the first frame his new film shows how unfairly south Korean economic success is distributed, and questions whether it is true that everybody gets to be happy in a prosperous country and, if not, what it takes for the unlucky ones to fit in.
Without giving too much away, let`s talk a little about the film. The movie’s attention focuses on the Kims, a family living in a basement in a poor district of the city. One by one they start working for and simply ‘existing alongside’ the Parks who live in an elegant mansion in a posh area of the city. Soon after, the Kims begin to feel the two families belong to two different worlds and they feel not just rejected but, what is more painful, overlooked and ignored. From this point onward, the film poses numerous questions such as: is it the Kims’ fault if they strive to escape from their reality, even stooping to less than savory means? Are people actually able to change their station in life and the conditions they are born into? While we contend with difficulties, what if we trip and fall back into our original plight or, in desperate circumstances, what if we fall even deeper into the quicksand of life’s vicissitudes? In the movie, Kim’s father told his son that ‘an unplanned life is the happiest life because your expectations won’t hurt you’. Is it true? People who are born with a golden spoon in their mouth don’t need to make any attempts to improve their situation, just like the Park family; but do they have the right to look down on people who do not have the same privileges? Are they really more ‘refined humans’ than others and cannot even tolerate the smell of less refined people? Or is it the case that our social status and wealth have the power to change us into something that is perhaps not even a person, something inhuman and oblivious of struggles of those who are less fortunate?
To conclude, I highly recommend that you watch this technically exquisite movie, a social drama and a dark comedy all rolled into one. It will keep you entertained from the opening shot to the final credits.