Bong Joon-ho’s award-winning Parasite beautifully depicts the realities of class conflict, wealth and social inequalities- all defining features of the post-colonial world. Set in Korea, the film follows the life of a poor family, the Kims; that con their way into all getting employed by the same rich family, the Parks. Just when it seems like everything is working out; their lies catch up to them. Along with telling a story of class, the film tells a story of imperialism. While talking about a rich and a poor family, the film also manages to establish the hegemony of the colonizer and the colonized.
The United States of America, Korea’s colonizers; have left their mark on the Nation and its residents in more ways than one. To be ‘American’ is the goal. For starters, the use of the English language, something that came with the Americans is used to show power and alienate the poor in the movie. ( JUHYUNDRED, 2020). The use of the word ‘WIFI’ represents things the Kims do not have but need for their survival. The family folds ‘pizza boxes’ for some odd money showing the current state of the Korean job market. (Joon-ho, 2019). A significant part of Korea’s population is engaged in irregular work after a series of events due to colonialism led to the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. ( JUHYUNDRED, 2020). In short, the use of English words in the first few minutes of the film show the social and economic position of the Kims.
English plays such an important role in the film, that it is the basis of the introduction of the two families. Ki- Woo is employed by the Parks to teach their daughter Da-Hye English. He is taken seriously by the Parks only because of his proficiency in the Language. When he first enters the Parks household, matriarch Yeon-Gyo; speaks to him in English in an attempt to reiterate her status and power and tries flaunting the language despite not being too well versed with it, as is evident by her grammatical errors when she asks him if “it is okay with you” instead of if “that is okay with you.” Korea’s college system is designed in such a way that requires all Korean’s taking the entrance exam to be proficient in English, despite the syllabus being taught in Korean, showing the US’s influence on the country’s economy. It is almost ironic to see Ki-Woo help Da-Hye navigate the same system that oppresses him and his family. English is in a sense seen as the language of power for the Koreans.
Capitalism is another by-product of the US’s rule in Korea and is referenced by the use of imported tents for the son. ‘Commercialized indigenous material’ objects like arrows feature throughout the film. (JUHYUNDRED, 2020). Yeon-Gyo explains that her son was going through and ‘Indian’ phase because of one of his cub-scouts instructors (Joon-Ho, 2019). These are all essentially American concepts.
In one of the final scenes of the movie, Ki-Taek; the colonized, kills Mr Park, his colonizer signifying the end of his acceptance of the colonial rule. Long after the incident, Ki-Woo is shown to be laughing, perhaps at his desperation to move upwards in the class system, at the exploitation around him and at the concept of power in general. By the end of the film, Ki-Taek tries to communicate with his son Ki-Woo in Morse code, as war is the only language left to use. (JUHYUNDRED, 2020).
Colonialism is an extremely powerful force that changed the course of the world. The destructive force has impacted all aspects of life right from politics to the identity as a whole of the people in the countries involved. The process of ‘othering’ where the colonised are seen differently and as much lesser than their colonizer, who are seen as the superiors and desirable has negatively impacted the colonized in ways unimaginable and the impact continues to be felt. The Kim’s represent much of the general population that aspires to reach a higher status and attain more power while the Parks represent the higher class that is oblivious to the struggles of the lower classes. Watch on Amazon
Post-colonial theory, according to Marxists like Vivek Chibber shows the differences between the East and the West as too vast to bridge, hence stopping people from having ‘universal aspirations.’ ( Chibber, 2013). The Theory has also been criticised for ‘endorsing’ orientalism, wherein the Eastern world is depicted in a distorted manner. Literature found about colonial times usually highlights a few identities while side-lining the others, hence distorting the realities of such times, failing to give us an accurate picture.
Chibber, V. (2013). Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capitalism. London: Verso.
Joon-ho, B. (2019). Parasite [Film]. Korea.
Postcolonial Lens – NHS English Department. (2020). Retrieved 25 March 2020, from https://sites.google.com/a/needham.k12.ma.us/nhs-english-department/home/courses/english-12/curriculum/postcolonial-lens
Reading Colonialism in “Parasite”. (2020). Retrieved 25 March 2020, from https://tropicsofmeta.com/2020/02/17/reading-colonialism/