Upstairs/Downstairs – ‘Parasite’ is a vivid portrayal of people who live in the bowels of poverty and those who wallow in their wealth. Images: Neon (Parasite), Studio-Annika/Getty Images (Stage Blood)Vanity Fair.HWD

Can Filipinos become parasites?

A review by Teodoro ‘Ted’ Alcuitas

Is it possible that a Filipino family can become parasites (ang nabubuhay sa gugol ng iba or linta) the way this South Korean movie portrays?

It begs the question since Filipinos are known worldwide for providing services to the worlds’ elites as domestic workers, toiling in slave-like conditions in an effort to escape the grinding poverty in the Philippines.

In this highly acclaimed movie, Director Bong Joon Ho delves into the class struggle that confronts the rich and the poor. The divide is so unbearable that oftentimes the poor is driven to sacrifice everything in order to escape the poverty.

Bong Joon-ho is sanguine about his first experience in the Oscar race: “I’m just trying to have fun.” (Photo: Peter Hapak, Vanity Fair)

Or deviously exploit a situation as a means to escape from their perdition.

Parasite opens with son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) of the Kim family seemingly offered a lucky break to teach English to a the daughter of the ultra-rich Park couple. His friend, the original mentor has to leave for further studies and so thought of recommending him to the family.

The only problem is that Ki-woo has no papers to prove his qualifications and so started a series of deception.

He had his credentials forged by his equally talented sister Ki-jung who he eventually recommended as an art therapist to the Park’s young son, Da-song.         

The Parks in its naivety, never suspects that the art tutor  and English tutor are in fact sister and brother.

The scheming did not stop there, and seeing another opportunity to exploit his employer, K-woo concocted to have his dad work as a family driver, carefully covering their relationship. He and Jessica schemed to discredit the current driver so he would be terminated and replaced by their father.

Later, they devised to replace the housekeeper by making it appear that she was sick of tuberculosis. 

The replacement? Their mother, purportedly an experienced housekeeper.

Their scheme complete, the Kims finally got out of their poverty and was enjoying the perks of living in high society.

Enter another character who derailed the whole deception. It turns out that the original housekeeper was  keeping a secret from the Parks by hiding her husband in a secret basement of the house that nobody knew.

The original housekeeper Mun-kwang (Lee Jeong-eun) returns and confesses that her husband, Kun-sae, has been stowed away in a secret bunker underneath the Park house for four years.

In a struggle to keep their places, the two protagonists – the Kims and Mun-kwang fought bitterly in one drunken episode while the Parks were away.

The Kims overpowered the couple and imprisoned them in the secret dungeon, leaving them for dead.

The movie ends in the darkest of moments, with a bloodbath in the Parks garden where a lavish birthday celebration for Da-song was held.

Kun-sae who went crazy, escaped from the dungeon and went on a killing rampage stabbing and killing    partygoers.

Here, the struggle of servitude was played to its fullest. Mr. Park demand that the father (Ki-taek) drive his dying family to the hospital while his own daughter also lay dying. In his final act of anger at this injustice, he kills Mr. Park and escaped.       

While the setting is in Korea, the incongruities and realities of the poor are not far from the movie theater where it was shown in Vancouver’s Eastside. A few blocks away Hastings Street is littered with homeless and dying poor and further down, Oppenheimer Park is occupied by tent people.

With 6 Oscar nominations and sweeping global awards like the Palme d’Or and Golden Globe for the first time in Korea’s cinematic history,Parasite is set to make film history.

“There are people who are fighting hard to change society. I like those people, and I’m always rooting for them, but making the audience feel something naked and raw is one of the greatest powers of cinema. “I’m not making a documentary or propaganda here. It’s not about telling you how to change the world or how you should act because something is bad, but rather showing you the terrible, explosive weight of reality. That’s what I believe is the beauty of cinema,” Director Bong Joon-ho tells Vulture in an interview.