The Hopelessness of the ‘Parasite’ (2020) Screenplay

The article contains spoilers for Parasite

10th February 2020 marked a historic moment in modern history: the day the world united in peace when Parasite snagged four Academy Awards. The South Korean film took the coveted Best Picture award as well as Best Director, Best International film and Best Original Screenplay. Written by Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han, the story about social inequality made a huge impression with critics and audiences alike: currently sitting on a 99% Rotten Tomato score and a worldwide box office of over $200 million. Parasite has been praised for it’s tight technical craft as well as the strong performances from each cast member. However, it is arguably the script that resonated with audiences most of all. You don’t just become the first foreign language film to win Best Picture with a half-baked story.

So what was it about the narrative that had everyone talking about Parasite? The seismic plot twist certainly. The scathing commentary on class for sure. There are many aspects to the narrative that add to its success but they are all filled with such… hopelessness and pessimism. Bong Joon Ho has explored similar themes of class throughout his entire filmography but Parasite is possibly his most pessimistic; robbing the characters of any happy outcomes and optimistic endings. These dour elements are evident not just throughout the final product but are written into the script.

The Kim family, living in a semi-basement as penniless and jobless people, con their way into working for the rich Park family, who live in an upper class neighbourhood. Parasitestarts out as a fun heist movie where, one by one, the Kims scheme their way into the Park’s home. The opening half plays out quite light-heartedly.

Whilst rather on the nose,it sends a clear message of irony that the toilet acts as the family’s literal alter; especially when it helps Ki-Woo access a new wifi network.

The descriptors used and the short sentences make the negativity bold and hard-hitting. This really is an awful life the Kim’s live, living in a home where the family still have to scavenge for food. The structure of this opening sequence gives us a sense of the tiny space the family live in; with no scene headings for each room, just continuous action lines, telling us that the space is small enough to have the scene take place throughout the whole apartment. Compare that to the Park’s mansion where every room and area is broken up with their own scene headings even within a continuous scene; emphasising the humongous space the family are fortunate to have, unlike the Kims. Parasite’s opening also gives us a clear insight into the ugly relationship between and Ki-Tek (Kang-ho Song). Chung-Sook is abusive to her husband but the fact that Ki-Tek is rather nonchalant about it suggests this has been going on for so long that he has grown accustomed to her behaviour. In the opening scene alone the writers lay down the situation clearly: this is a poverty-stricken family living in squalor with a fractured husband and wife dynamic. Of course things get much worse for the Kims.

At the film’s midpoint the Kims are at an all time high: they have successfully infiltrated the Park’s family home and are celebrating by drinking away their expensive collection of beverages. That is until a familiar face arrives on the scene in the form of ex-house keeper (Jeong-eun Lee). In terms of narrative design, the writers have crafted a cruel fate for the Kims. In a different script, the story could have ended here, giving the Kims a complete arc with a happy ending, but the writers wanted to tell a narrative that pits working class people against each other. Instead, at the height of their success, the Kims world is completely turned inside out. As they drink and laugh:

Throughout the script until now, the writers don’t use any italics. They save that tool for this pivotal moment to signify just how Mun-Kwang’s arrival changes everything; for the story and for the characters. The ex-housekeeper returns seemingly to collect something but is in fact back at the mansion to look after her husband who has been living in a secret basement area unbeknownst to the Park family. Their secret is revealed to the Kims but on the flip side the Kims let slip (literally) and their scheme is exposed. Tensions rise between the two families underneath the oblivious residents of the mansion.  The Kim family may have committed terrible actions against others but that is for their survival; not to steal but to have the opportunity to work and earn a living. The conflict that builds between the Kims and Mun-Kwang and her husband just goes to show how much of a dog-eat-dog-world it is for working class families. Unlike the rich, the poor may reach a place of success but they have to keep fighting to retain that position of power. 

After the conflict we reach the bloody climax; Ki-Jung (So-dam Park) is murdered by the ex-housekeeper’s husband Kun-Sae (Myeong-hoon Park), Ki-Tek murders the Park’s matriarch Dong-Ik (Sun-kyun Lee) and runs away and Ki-Woo (Woo-sik Choi) survives a brutal attack from Kun-Sae. Ki-Woo and Chung-Sook are left to return to their semi-basement and live in their previous conditions, albeit without Ki-Jung and Ki-Tek. The family is fractured and back at square one. The audience and the characters are offered some light as Ki-Tek, living in the Park’s basement that once belonged to Kun-Sae, communicates with Ki-Woo through the mansion’s lights. This prompts Ki-Woo to write a letter back but as he reads it out loud we see images of an older Ki-Woo buying the mansion with his own family and reuniting with Ki-Tek. A vision of the future? 

The writers cruelly build our hopes up only to rob us a family reunion. Even the description of where Ki-Woo sitsis biting and harsh. The smash cut is effectively used to knock sense into Ki-Woo and the reader: this is the real world, we shouldn’t be so foolish to dream of such fantasies. 

It is understandable that certain aspects of the film on screen made us laugh and grin. An intentional direction made by Boon Jong Ho in the directors chair, but when reading the script or even watching the film for a second viewing it is hard to shake off the hopelessness the family face. The writers do a brilliant job of structuring the script that hammers home this sense of terrible pessimism in the opening, midpoint and final scenes. They utilise screenwriting tools and techniques to make situations even more dire but the narrative structure the writers have crafted is what helps strip away any signs of hope. In the eyes of Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han, the working class will always live lives with ‘an undertone of hopelessness’.

The script can be found at: