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Movie Review: Oscar-Nominated South Korean Film 'Parasite' Has Universal Appeal


I didn’t get a chance to talk about the brilliant South Korean film Parasite when it first came out, so I’m excited it’s gotten a theatrical re-release following its Best Picture Oscar nomination.

The movie was directed by Bong Joon Ho, who’s been making incredibly inventive genre-bending films for more than 15 years now and has been nominated himself for Best Director for Parasite. And yes, I’m personally rooting for both the film and the director.

The movie focuses on a poor South Korean family living in a semi-underground apartment, who fold pizza boxes to make a little cash, and leave their windows open when the fumigation truck comes by so they can get free pest extermination. They insinuate themselves into the lives of a young rich family, and once there, make every possible extreme effort to stay.

The film is funny, bizarre, and surprising, all part of the package with Bong Joon Ho. One sequence involving the need to rapidly make a pot of noodles in order to avoid disastrous consequences is a virtuosic piece of filmmaking, just one of many. But I wasn’t prepared for how deeply sad the movie is. The term “class warfare” has rightly been applied to Parasite, but that gives a bit of a false impression. We usually take that to mean it’s a battle between the rich and the poor, but we have to recognize class warfare also takes place within classes. The powerful have done a very good job convincing those with fewer resources that as long as someone is worse off than they are, things aren’t so bad. And seeing that kind of struggle play out in such a masterful way is devastating.

Bong Joon Ho has said he thought Parasite was a story particular to South Korea, and he’s been a bit surprised at how it’s been received more universally. But of course. Recent data shows South Korea ranks around #63 among countries in income inequality. For reference, the U.S. ranks about 55 spots worse.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.