Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for Parasite. This guide contains everything you need to understand the film. Dive into our detailed library of content, covering key aspects of the movie. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is Parasite about?
Parasite is a perfect example of showing-over-telling. It shows us the juxtaposition between two families. One with little resources. Another with an abundance of resources. The way in which the two families become entangled becomes a euphemism for the economic dynamics within populations. How wealth distribution leads to inequality that creates classism that leads to conflict.
There’s specific commentary about opportunities in 21st century South Korea but the ideas extend to most countries across the world. There are the haves and the have nots. Bong uses changes in elevation, often via stairs, to reinforce the idea of sinking into poverty or rising up into wealth. It’s a very dark comedy that ends quite bitterly. Ki-woo’s motivation to save his father and family is, it’s implied, prove hopeless. In that way, Ki-woo becomes Bong’s commentary on the modern youth of South Korea and the seeming dead end they face despite dreams and ambition.
There’s also a geo-political aspect that can take the conversation into the relationship South Korea has with North Korea, Japan, America, and Europe. Theft of land and war get reduced to children’s toys and an example of how to arrange tables for a birthday party.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Mr. Kim – Song Kang-ho
- Chung-sook – Jang Hye-jin
- Kim Ki-woo (Kevin) – Choi Woo-shik
- Kim Ki-jung (Jessica) – Park So-dam
- Mrs. Park – Choi Yeon-gyo
- Mr. Park – Lee Sun-kyun
- Park Da-hye – Jung Ji-so
- Park Da-song – Jung Hyeon-jun
- Gook Moon-gwang – Lee Jung-eun
- Oh Geun-sae – Park Myung-hoon
- Min-hyuk – Park Seo-joon
- Written by – Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won
- Directed by – Bong Joon-ho
The ending of Parasite explained
The end of Parasite is a montage-style epilogue that explores the aftermath of the tragic events at Da-song’s birthday party. We follow Ki-woo. First, his awakening in the hospital after sustaining a major head injury. The subsequent recovery and trial. Going to visit his sister’s memorial, then falling into a new routine. It culminates with Ki-woo discovering a morse code message sent by his father via the lights in the home that used to belong to the Parks. Ki-woo copies the message, translates it, then writes a letter back, one that includes Ki-woo’s plan to work hard, become successful, buy the house, and reunite their family. The final shot is of Ki-woo, sitting in the dark of the Kim’s sublevel apartment, while it snows outside. He reads the end of his message, “Take care, until then.” After a pause. “So long.” Then stares into the camera.
The biggest question people usually have about the end of Parasite is whether or not Ki-woo’s fantasy is real. Short answer: it’s not. The point of the fantasy sequence is to set up the Parasite’s tragic conclusion.
Remember, a few scenes earlier, when the Kim family has to seek shelter after the storm, Ki-woo asks Mr. Kim what the plan is in regards to the family in the basement (Moon-gwang and Geun-sae) of the Park home. Mr. Kim’s answer amounts to “Don’t make plans. Because if you make a plan, it won’t come true.” Sure enough, Ki-woo makes a plan anyway—to bring the prosperity stone to the family in the basement—and it backfires. Geun-sae escapes the basement because of Ki-woo’s appearance, harms Ki-woo, mortally wounds Ki-jung, then triggers Mr. Kim to knife Mr. Park.
So when we hear Ki-woo make another plan, one that involves him becoming rich enough to buy the former home of the Parks and free his dad from the confines of the basement, our response should be, “Oh no. Not another plan.” Bong Joon-ho kind of tricks the viewer by showing us Ki-woo’s daydream. The visual allows us to believe, if only for a second, that maybe this is all actually happening. Again, this is only done to reinforce the grim conclusion. It sets up a brutal contrast between that vision of being “up there” in that house vs. the reality of Ki-woo in the sublevel apartment. Not just in the apartment. But in almost total darkness. His final dialogue even reinforces this hope-followed-by-cruel-reality. “Until then” implies the idea that this will happen, they will meet again. But after a pause, we’re hit with the “So long” which feels completely final.
There’s another layer, too. Parasite’s opening shot is out the apartment window, looking at the street. It’s bright outside. Murkier in the apartment. But the light brings a sense of positivity. The camera then pans down to Ki-woo, on the coach, looking at his phone. Later, during the storm, we get a similar shot of the windows looking out at the street. Except now water has flooded the apartment and everything outside. The camera even slightly submerges. This brings us to the last moment, after Ki-woo’s vision. That final shot out the window is in the dead of night, in the dead of winter. Snow is everywhere.
What you have in these three shots is a sense of beginning, middle, and end. In the beginning, there’s potential and positivity. In the middle there’s water. While water often implies rebirth, it also represents fluidity or the idea of change. Rebirth tends to be positive, while fluidity/change is more neutral. It’s essentially a turning point. In the case of Parasite, it changes the circumstances of the Kim family. Their forward progress comes to a total halt. That’s the implication then of the darkness of the final shot. It marks an overall shadow on Ki-woo’s future prospects. Something the snow only reinforces. The water is no longer fluid. It’s snowing. It’s ice. It’s set. The warmth and light is gone. Instead, it’s dark and frozen.
The larger implication here is that Ki-woo represents the youth of the 99% and their prospects in capitalistic societies that make it almost impossible to climb out of poverty. He’s not just a sad youth in South Korea. He embodies the many young, capable people throughout the world who have their plans go to ruin because of systemic issues and the difficulties in bouncing back in the aftermath of events out of their control. Look at how difficult it has become for Millenials and Zoomers to buy homes. Parasite’s ending will become more and more relevant as the years go on.
For Mr. Kim, there are a few potential conclusions. One, he just lives out the rest of his days in the basement of the home and never emerges. Two, he gets caught (probably trying to get food in the middle of the night) and has to flee and ends up in an even worse situation or in jail. Three, some time passes and he eventually leaves and reunites with his family and waits to eventually be recognized and arrested. Four, reunites with his family and they flee to somewhere, hoping he won’t be recognized.
Given that Parasite stressed a connection between Mr. Kim and Geun-sae and we saw how happy Geun-sae was in the basement, I would imagine the “intended” reading is that Mr. Kim just stays in the basement as long as he can. And comes to accept his role as the parasite of the home. Much like Geun-sae did. Mr. Kim may even light the stairs for the family, just like Geun-sae.
The themes and meaning of Parasite
The major theme of Parasite is wealth inequality. The Parks are rich and the Kims are near rock bottom. Bong Joon-ho physicalizes this disparity by having the Kims literally travel downward to their home and upward to the Parks. Parasite’s commentary is exciting because it doesn’t settle for a simple contrast in lifestyle, cutting from family to family. Rather, the Kims and Parks collide in a meaningful way and create a much richer and accurate vein of discussion. We see the way in which they benefit from one another. The Parks can only live the way they live because they rely on the Kims. Likewise, the Kims have an increase in livelihood and opportunity through their relationship with the Parks. There’s mutual benefit.
But the system comes flying apart due to the little things. Mr. Kim has a distinct and powerful smell from living in such a poor place. It’s seemingly part of him. And he begins to resent the fact that the Parks notice it and think less of him because of it. It becomes a matter of pride. Then there’s also the astounding ignorance the Parks display after the rain storm. The flood ruined the home of the Kims. They pretty much lost everything they owned. It was a traumatic and momentous thing for them. For the Parks? It was a simple rainy day.
There’s a scene where Mrs. Park calls Ki-jung and invites her to the birthday party. We see Ki-jung in the emergency shelter, surrounded by hundreds of other people affected by the flood. She’s tired, disheveled. While Mrs. Park puts on makeup and is surrounded by all her wealth, completely ignorant about what has transpired “below”. This culminates with Mrs. Park in the back of the car, saying to a friend that the sky is so blue thanks to the rain the previous day. The camera then pans to Mr. Kim, driving the car. His expression is miserable. The climax is when Mrs. Park says “That rain was such a blessing!” as she plugs her nose due to Mr. Kim’s scent.
So we’re shown the ways in which the system can work and benefit everyone. But then the way in which the inequality creates enormous gaps in perspective and living quality. Ultimately, the system is unsustainable and leads to frustration, which evolves to resentment, which culminates in violence. The people suffer but the system continues, unchanged.
The battle over limited resources: intro
The main conflict in Parasite isn’t even between the Kims and Parks. It’s between the Kims and Moon-gwang and her husband, Geun-sae. Moon-gwang and Geun-sae are, like the Kims, lower class and dependent on the Parks. Geun-sae has spent years in the house’s bunker, surviving on whatever’s in the home. He’s the closest thing to a true parasite that the movie has. In debt, on the run from the law, completely reliant on the household. At least the Kims have their own place and own things and buy their own food and work for their income. The only thing Geun-sae contributes is triggering the lights on the stairs from the garage. A wholly superficial and useless skill.
The Park home is a limited resource that can only sustain a single other family. That family had been Moon-gwang and Geun-sae. Then the Kims move in, remove Moon-gwang, and think it’s smooth sailing. Unfortunately for them, Moon-gwang comes back to attempt to find a middle ground. This escalates to what is essentially a war that ends up destroying the resource and ruining lives.
The battle over limited resources: geopolitics
When Moon-gwang and Geun-sae temporarily take control of the house and have the Kims as hostages, Moon-gwang playfully imitates a North Korean news anchor. Later, Mrs. Park uses the Battle of Hansan Island from the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 as an example of how to arrange tables for Da-song’s birthday party. Right after that, Mr. Park and Mr. Kim dress up as Native Americans—the last of several references to the United States.
These references all involve territorial conflict. North Korea vs. South Korea. Japan vs. Korea. Native Americans vs. European settlers. Parasite is a microcosm of a much larger conflict over resources.
The battle over limited resources: it’s cyclical
Moon-gwang notes that the Park home used to be owned by the original architect. She worked for him. He moved. The Parks came. Then the Kims show up. Remove Moon-gwang. Conflict ensues. In the aftermath, the Parks move and Mr. Kim takes over Geung-sae’s position as the home’s parasite, living in the bunker. A new family moves in. And everything is as it was, just with a new cast of characters. Does the system ever really change or improve? It seems the system is entirely untouched. It’s only the people who suffer. There will always be more Parks and more Kims, those at the top and those at the bottom. The names will be different. But the results will probably be the same. It’s implied at the end that despite Ki-woo’s capacity and big dreams, he’ll never achieve anything of substance. Meaning he’ll probably also have a family that needs to struggle in the shadow of those who have more.
The failure of plans
After the storm, the Kims spend the night with countless others in the emergency center. This is the conversation Ki-woo and Mr. Kim have.
- Kw: Dad?
- MK: Yeah?
- Kw: What was your plan?
- MK: What are you talking about?
- Kw: Before, you said you had a plan. What will you do about the basement?
- MK: Ki-woo, you know what kind of plan never fails? No plan at all. No plan. You know why? If you make a plan, life never works out that way. Look around us. Did these people think, “Let’s all spend the night in a gym?” But look now. Everyone’s sleeping on the floor, us included. That’s why people shouldn’t make plans. With no plan, nothing can go wrong. And if something spins out of control, it doesn’t matter. Whether you kill someone, or betray your country. None of it f***ing matters. Got it?
- Kw: Dad. I’m sorry.
- MK: For what?
- Kw: Everything. All of it. I’ll take care of everything.
- MK: What are you talking about? Why are you hugging that stone?
- Kw: This? It keeps clinging to me.
- MK: I think you need some sleep.
- Kw: I’m serious. It keeps following me.
It’s a very bleak conversation that reflects how near his breaking point Mr. Kim is. But it’s also Bong Joon-ho’s in-road for the audience in terms of a major thematic point. Whatever plan you try and make, whatever system you try and create: it will break. It will go wrong in ways you could never predict. And Ki-woo becomes the embodiment of that.
Ki-woo’s first foray into the failure of plans happens the next day after the conversation with his dad. He goes to the Park house for Da-song’s birthday party and brings the stone his dad asked him about. It’s the symbolic wealth rock that Ki-woo’s friend, Min, had given him at the start of the film. Because it immediately preceded Min’s introduction of Ki-woo to the Parks, Ki-woo seriously buys into the energy of the rock. It’s a naive moment. But Ki-woo wants to give the stone to Moon-gwang and Geun-sae as a way to mend fences. It seems he believes that by giving them the stone, he’s creating an opportunity for them elsewhere where they can go and be happy.
Except when he opens the basement door, Geun-sae appears and batters Ki-woo. Then throws the stone into Ki-woo’s head, causing serious injury. This then allows Geun-sae to mortally wound Ki-jung and leads to Mr. Kim seizing the opportunity to knife Mr. Park. In terms of plans going wrong, it’s pretty much the definition of epic failure.
After this, Ki-woo discovers that Mr. Kim’s living in the bunker at the house. We get that final scene where Ki-woo writes a letter he hopes to somehow give to his father. In the letter, he describes his new plan of working hard, getting rich, then eventually buying that very house so Mr. Kim can just walk up from the basement and rejoin the family. We even see how this would all play out. For a second, we may even believe that this is a flash forward, not fantasy. But then we cut back to Ki-woo in that sad basement apartment. It’s winter outside. It’s dark and gloomy inside. Despite Ki-woo’s ambition, Mr. Kim’s words resonate. “If you make a plan, life never works out that way.” It’s crushing.
Why is the movie called Parasite?
The most obvious application of the title would be a reference to the way in which the Kim family ends up taking advantage of the Park family. First the son, Ki-woo, gets a job as an English tutor. He leverages that to get his sister, Ki-jung, a job as an art therapist. She then engineers her dad, Mr. Kim, becoming the family driver. And he manages to get the old housekeeper removed and his wife installed. Now the whole Kim family is employed and benefitting from the Parks. The culmination of this is when the Parks go on a trip and the Kims make themselves at home, eating and drinking and talking about it being their house.
But the title also applies to Oh Geun-sae, the man living in the bunk of the Park home. As “parasitic” as the Kims were, they have their own home, their own stuff, get their own food. They have a life that’s completely separate from the Parks. Geun-sae does not. Every minute of every day, he’s in the home. He’s using their power, their plumbing. He drinks their water, eats their food. He’s pretty much the truest parasite the film has.
Unfortunately, that title of parasite transfers from Geun-sae to Mr. Kim. After the tragic events at Da-song’s birthday party, Mr. Kim takes over the bunker space and becomes the titular parasite.
Of course, you can apply the title to the film’s commentary on class disparity and wealth inequality. The Parks are rich. The Kims are not. They’re symbolic and their interaction serves as illumination and critique. If we are to read the word “parasite” as applicable more to the Kims, that might seem harsh and like a condemnation of those who have less. But remember, Parasite is a darkly comedic film. It’s bitter satire. The dehumanization that comes from the word “parasite” is an exaggeration by Bong Joon-ho. It’s sarcasm. “Oh, those with less are just parasites, right? Right? …” It’s him saying “This is how the world views people who are struggling. As parasites, rather than as people who have hopes, dreams, who struggle, who are capable if given the opportunity, who deserve compassion and kindness. The title is a condemnation of that dehumanization.
Important motifs in Parasite
Stairs serve as a major visual motif in Parasite. They symbolize someone’s ability to move upward or downward, depending on the situation. Stairs are the bridge between the world the Kims inhabit and that of the Parks. When we go to the home of the Kims, the stairs take us down and down. When we go to the Parks, we ascend. This physically embodies the economic differences between the two families and adds an aspect of physicality to the transition from one world to the other. Even in the Park home, the stairs to the basement lead to the bunker, which is the lowest point in the home and the place occupied by the home’s parasite.
The scholar’s rock
Min gives Ki-woo a scholar’s rock as a gift, explaining that it’s associated with wealth. Almost immediately after, Min offers Ki-woo the job of teaching English to Park Da-hye. This would become the most lucrative job of Ki-woo’s life. And, for a time, lifts his entire family out of poverty. He even has visions of dating Da-hye and establishing himself in this upper level of society. He could be Min’s peer. He could marry into the Park family. He could make something of himself.
Ki-woo associates all of this good fortune with the scholar’s rock. Especially when things turn difficult after the encounter with Moon-gwang and Geun-sae and the storm. Ki-woo clings to the stone because he’s fearful of losing the path to this better life. He even decides that to mend fences with Moon-gwang and Geun-sae that he’ll give them scholar’s rock. It’s a naive, well-intentioned moment, as he truly believes that the gift could satisfy the former maid and her husband in the aftermath of the fight Ki-woo’s family had with them. The attempt to give the stone leads to Geun-sae’s escape and the loss of Ki-jung, Mr. Park, and Mr. Kim. To put a cherry on top, Geun-sae slams the scholar’s rock into Ki-woo’s head. The very thing that was supposed to save, ends up derailing all.
There’s a stark visual difference between where the Kims live and where the Parks live. Early on, Parasite establishes the cramped living quarters the Kims make do in. It can be pretty claustrophobic for the viewer, even if the family manages. This creates a stark contrast when we reach the Parks. The openness and sheer size of the home quells whatever tension we had from the Kims. The juxtaposition between these places throughout Parasite begins a cycle of tension and release, tension and release, that finally snaps when things in the Park home veer from good to bad. That space is no longer accessible and we’re left in the cramped quarters of the Kim home, feeling like the walls have closed in on Ki-woo’s life.
Questions & answers about Parasite
Does Ki-woo really end up owning the house and reuniting his family?
No. The vision Ki-woo has is a set-up for the idea that making plans never works. So the fact that he makes this plan that has this happy ending is only there to elevate the film’s final tragedy—Ki-woo will probably never escape the shackles of his family’s economic level. He will probably never see his dad again. Unless Mr. Kim decides to leave the house bunker and see his wife and son one last time.
Is Mr. Kim really living in the bunker of the house and sending morse code messages?
Yes. Parasite wouldn’t set up Geun-sae living there and sending morse code messages if it wasn’t something that had relevance later in the story.
What is Mr. Kim’s smell? Why can’t they get rid of it?
Mr. Park says it’s a fishy smell. The family discusses it at one point and talks about doing separate loads of laundry, all with different detergents. But they realize that the smell has nothing to do with the laundry and everything to do with where they live: in a sublevel apartment in a poor part of town. It’s kind of like if you live in a house with a smoker, all your clothes will smell like smoke. That’s the practical answer.
The more poetic, thematic answer is that the smell ends up being one of the subtle ways the film highlights the superficial differences between economic levels. As we see, the Kims aren’t any less capable than the Parks. They’ve been dealt a different hand. All things equal, the Kims probably would be more successful than the Parks. But things aren’t equal. A rainy day can ruin the lives of the Kims, but it’s a breath of fresh air for the Parks. Mr. Kim has this scent that he can’t do anything about. Mr. Park does not. All because of where they live.
Does the scholar’s rock really bring wealth?
No. If it did, it wouldn’t make sense for things to go so terribly wrong for the Kims. The fact that Geun-sae ends up bashing Ki-woo’s head with the stone and causing brain damage should answer this question. But Ki-woo does, for a time, truly believe in the power and promise of the stone.
Why does Ki-woo want to give the scholar’s rock to Moon-gwang and Geun-sae?
Ki-woo tells his father he has a plan that will solve the dilemma between the Kims and Moon-gwang and Geun-sae. That plan? To give the other couple the scholar’s rock that Min gave to the Kims. That’s because Ki-woo seems convinced of the rock’s mystical powers. By sharing the wealth, he thinks Moon-gwang and Geun-sae will go on to find a better situation of their own and that will allow the Kims to continue benefiting from the Parks.
Why was Geun-sae living in the bunker?
He explains that he had loans for a business that failed and people were coming to collect. It seems like these weren’t good people and his life was in danger. The bunker was probably initially a temporary stop. But Geun-sae grew comfortable and just became a parasite.
Is Parasite based on a true story?
Only in-so-far as Bong Joon-ho was aware of economic challenges facing South Korean youths. Really, young people the world over. There are many capable, qualified people who can’t find jobs. Especially jobs that allow someone to begin to close the wealth gap. So Parasite is kind of a love letter to Millennials and the oldest Zoomers who have run into this economic wall and the woes of increasing wealth inequality.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Parasite? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!