Reflections on Cross-Cultural Issues in the Film 기생충 (Parasite)

Here are a few reflections about the South Korean film by Bong, Joon-ho called 기생충 (Parasite). Some unique Korean cultural differences could get lost to many Western audiences. Reflecting on them is the main goal of this writing. Remember, these are one person’s opinions, take them or leave them. Spoiler alerts. If you haven’t seen the movie, then go watch it and then read this afterward.

The biggest shock to most Westerners when they see the two poor families at each others’ throats is, why not work together in order to fulfill each of their purposes to get wealthy and be comfortable? There is enough wealth for everybody.

It’s an excellent question. One of the cultural distinctions of Korea is that there are many ways that people find their identity. It can be in a family, a circle, a class, etc. But if there is neither a history of Jeong (Shared heart), or Hahn (Shared suffering), then it’s hard for strangers to connect empathetically.

Yet one might ask: both families are poor; surely the Kim family should be able to feel “Hahn” for the other family. Maybe so, but consider that the Kims are in a semi-basement (some have described as Purgatory), whereas the old man is living in the basement bunker (Hell), they are in very different places where the Kims are still able to look down on them both socially and geographically.

Another observation is the city of Seoul comes across as being very “post-Christian”~ very much a secular city. Nietzsche wrote that when God is dead; man is dead; the universe is unchained; one is left staring into a dark abyss. The only thing left to exercise is the will to power. We see this in the movie.

There is no morality. One can freely print up a fake university diploma off of the Internet and Photoshop it to one’s own liking. One is free to be the impostor and just “fake it until you make it”.

Some others have made the observation that the rain water (and the sewage) flows downward; that Global Warming has caused the poor down below to become flooded out of their homes… and the rich way up above are oblivious to it… Just like back during the French Revolution, you can hear Marie Antoinette saying the proverbial …”Let them eat cake!” In American-type capitalism, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Noticing some of the cultural differences can be a challenge. “Parasite” is a wonderful dark comedy that is very unique. It’s surprisingly anxiety-provoking and enjoyable. It is also thought-provoking. If you have not seen it yet, I would highly recommend it to you!

Yvon Malenfant

is an Interfaith Spiritual Counsellor & Life Coach via Skype video. He is also a guitar and ESL teacher, among other things.

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