Ki-Woo lives with his family, the Kims, in a bleak basement full of cockroaches and empty pizza cartons, which they fold for pittance pay. Wifi can only be gained by sitting in a corner, above the toilet, and they leave the window open when the council bug sprayers come past. Every so often a passing drunk pisses on the outside of the house.
But things are looking up. One of Ki-Woo’s mates is going abroad and fixes him up with his old job of English teacher for a rich family. For some reason, it helps to call himself Kevin. They mother of the family says in passing that she’s looking for an art therapist for their troubled son, so he puts them in touch with Jessica, not mentioning that she’s his sister Ki-jeong. But she’s qualified for the job – it was she who forged the certificate which said he has a University degree.
Gradually the whole family enveigles its way into the household. The old driver and housekeeper are forced out to be replaced by mom and dad. As the yuppies go on a camping trip, the Kims have a party in their house, helping themselves to as much food and liqueur as they can.
I must admit, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and that is in a large part down to the trailer – which has been running for months in German cinemas and I could quote word-for-word. It only contains low-level exposition scenes from the first 5 minutes or so, and gives us no clue as to what to expect. We need more trailers like this that don’t show us every bloody thing that we’re about to see.
In this sense, its better to talk in generalities. There are genuine plot twists which its best to experience for yourself. So here goes…
The rectangular modern architecture resembles that other yuppie home in Jordan Peale’s US, and both films share a narrative of an unseen and unappreciated underclass hidden in the bowels of the earth. I had heard that its a film about how the rich aren’t like us, which indeed it is, but this is shown more in passing detail than through strident hectoring.
Indeed the rich are not depicted as evil, just as foolish and undeserving. Numbed by their dependence on modern serfdom, they are unable to function without the help of other people. Similarly, the Kims are not seen as being virtuous – indeed virtuousness is not shown as being a particularly useful characteristic.
Nonetheless, we regularly see scenes which show the huge discrepancies between the families’ lives. At one point, the Kims are invited to a lavish surprize birthday party. As they still haven’t let on that they are related, they are contacted separately, while they are in a large sports hall full of victims of a recent sewage flood.
Much of the plot is cartoonish, which is not meant as a criticism, as I’m rather partial to a bit of Wile E. Coyote. There’s also a well-executed slice of “Where did you last see your trousers?” – style farce as the yuppies return and everyone hides under various beds and sofas. You never quite know where director Bong Joon-ho is going with this.
I’m not sure that this is the sort of film that you should search for deep meanings. It is what it is, and one thing that it is is very good indeed. The acting and cinematography is great, and if you suffer from a low boredom threshold there’s always a surprize around the corner.
But what does any of it mean? I haven’t really got an answer to this, and I’m not sure that one is required.