The boss:Sun-kyun Lee portrays the head of the wealthy Park family in (CJ Entertainment/-)
Life is way too unfair. One family gets to live in a mansion. Another lives in a basement, folding pizza boxes for money and scrounging free WiFi signals. Family No. 2 decides to move in on family No. 1 -- literally.
That’s the conceit of “Parasite,” a new horror-comedy by director Bong Joon-ho, which won top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is packing art houses in the U.S. The setting could have been San Francisco or London or any other place where the growing gap between the rich and poor is sparking major resentment. But the movie takes place in South Korea, a country where economic development has been dominated by a handful of family-controlled conglomerates and poverty rate is at U.S.-like levels.
With a message well-calibrated for 2019, “Parasite” has already become one of the highest grossing foreign-language films in the U.S. this year. This is, after all, a time when the 400 richest Americans have more money than the bottom 150 million, a billionaire real estate developer occupies the White House, and a leading candidate for the U.S. presidency is proposing a wealth tax.
Even billionaire financiers like Jamie Dimon and Ray Dalio are worrying out loud about what’s become of the middle class. In a widely talked-about social-media post this month, Dalio, founder of Westport, Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, said the “world has gone mad and the system is broken.” Ultra-low interest rates are punishing savers and rewarding borrowers. Money, he said, has become essentially free for those who already have lots of it, but “unavailable to those who don’t.”
The wealth-gap that “Parasite” explores shows up in South Korea’s data, too. The country ranks closer to the bottom of 36 nations in terms of its Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“At the heart of the film is this critique of capitalism that is not unique to Korea,” said Jason Bechervaise, a professor of entertainment and arts at South Korea’s Soongsil Cyber University. “There is a lot of anger out there, and Parasite captures this in a manner that is wholly unpredictable.”
“Parasite” also takes a jab at tech entrepreneurs who are benefiting from a rush of investors running out of places to put their money. In the film, the mansion’s owner runs a technology firm whose profit model isn’t crystal-clear. But he apparently believes his own media-hype enough to hang a magazine cover of himself on the wall.
“This is a rare opportunity,” says one of the plotting home invaders in the film. “Rich people are really gullible.”
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