0545 GMT December 05, 2021
The word parasite usually refers to an animal that lives in or on another type of animal. Parasite may also mean a person who makes a living by stealing money or food from other people.
Who exactly the parasites are in the movie ‘Parasite’ is subject to opinion. Before discussing further, let us first give credit to those who deserve praise for making the international, award-winning movie.
‘Parasite’ was directed by Bong Joon-ho and produced by Kwak Sin-ae, Moon Yang-kwon, Bong Yok-cho, and Jang Young-hwan. The movie was first shown on May 21, 2019 at the Cannes Film Festival, and was released in Korea on May 30 that year.
The film’s plot revolves around members of a poor family making elaborate plans to become employed by a wealthy family. The poor family pretend not to be related and pose as two highly-qualified tutors, a driver, and a housekeeper. The movie has been applauded as one of the greatest films to come from Korea, and its numerous awards certainly seem to support this claim.
‘Parasite’ won the Palme d'Or award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and, at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, it won the award for best foreign language film.
It went on to win the best film in the English language and best original screenplay awards at the 73rd British Academy Film Awards, and the American Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture.
The 92nd American Academy Awards bestowed the movie with the much coveted awards for best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best international feature film. ‘Parasite’ is the first non-English language film to win the best picture award in the history of the Academy Awards.
The director of ‘Parasite,’ Bong Joon-ho, is undoubtedly a genius. His attention to detail resulted in a movie that proved worthy of the best awards in the international film industry. Such meticulous insight is exhibited even in the film's minor scenes, such as one, where a simple Korean noodle dish is depicted so that class disparity is again brought into focus in the film.
In addition, ‘Parasite’ was created in a way that allows different people to hold different interpretations of the messages conveyed.
Families across three levels of income are introduced in the movie. Depending on how the movie is interpreted, each one of the three ― or all of the three ― can be interpreted as ‘parasites,’ each taking advantage of one another.
Virtually everyone who has seen ‘Parasite’ has an opinion on the film. Those who see the movie as one depicting a classic class conflict, and thus promoting the overthrow of the established Korean economy ― if not Korea itself ― however, are likely reading too much into its message.
My observation of South Koreans, including myself, is that we are a hard-working people with no thought of violence. The ‘Miracle on the Han River’ would not have been possible with a violent approach. Instead, Korea's economic miracle was achieved through hard work and a positive attitude.
There is no question that the living standards of all Koreans have improved greatly since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. There is also no question that there are significant differences in wealth between the rich and the poor in capitalist societies, including Korea.
An article by Christopher Ingraham, posted on the Washington Post website and accessed February 14, quotes data from the World Inequality Database (WID) which states that "the top 1 percent of South Koreans own about 25 percent of the nation's wealth, while the bottom half of the population owns just under two percent."
This reflection of capitalism illustrates how difficult it is for the poor to attain a decent standard of living in the modern world. As the movie draws to its conclusion, we see the contained but simmering class-rage take over, resulting in a violent burst that puts an abrupt end to the lifestyles of all characters and takes the lives of several of the families' members.
If we truly want to pursue fairer distribution of wealth in Korea, the US and other democratic countries where average incomes have been rising, it has to be achieved through improved education, enabling people to make better judgments, and democratic ballots, which will lead to a fairer society.
Fairer distribution of income and wealth can and should be achieved ― not through violence, nor through hostile policies toward businesses, but through creative economic policies in taxation and expenditure.
If we really want to identify social parasites, we should look no further than the powerful politicians in Korea and around the world who amass wealth to themselves and their friends with no thought to the greater good.
* Chang Se-moon is the director of the Gulf Coast Center for Impact Studies. This article was first published in koreatimes.co.kr.