“Parasite” (S. Korea) (2019)
It may not be the most artistic foreign film in 2019. I suspect it won that Oscar as a refreshingly straightforward social drama harkening back to the likes of “The Grapes of Wrath.” From my limited understanding of this genre, the most famous recent cinematic critiques of class inequality under global corporate capitalism are set in a more or less distant future. I am referring to “Avatar,” “Elysium,” “Bladerunner” etc. The South Korean film consistently situates lower class characters in cramped smelly basement apartments or dark gloomy bomb shelters. In contrast, the upper-class representatives dominate high rise corporate office buildings and hilltop mansions. One departure from classic social dramas is portraying the poor on the same or even lower moral plane than the rich.
Although affectionate to their own family members, the underprivileged show little remorse resorting to fraud and even murder to rise to the top.
The affluent are shown with a degree sympathy as peripheral pawns in a US-centered capitalist system. They willingly shed their traditions to adopt English names and American popular culture – symbolically, the chauffeur and his boss at the end dress up as Native Americans to demonstrate where all non-Westerners belong in the global Cowboys and Indians game.
The movie is easy to use in class in two ways. One could play the first 20 minutes to ask students to find examples of class differences.
The movie is also possible to relate to Asian urbanism materials including the ones Vin assigned in our workshop. If I am not mistaken, the rich family’s mansion incorporates some fengshui and Zen elements. The entrance is not a straight passage but a zigzagging set of stairs. A lot of action takes place in a walled garden. The director inverses their meaning with the tragic plot implying that in a capitalist rat race such features are not conducive to good fortune or religious meditation.