As stated in the title, this has a ton of spoilers so don’t read it unless you’ve seen the movie or plan to see it. In summary, we are not surprised that it was extremely popular as it should resonate with the masses. Unfortunately, our “take” on the movie is going to be quite different since we don’t agree with the premise “getting rich is just a fantasy/dream if you grew up poor”. Since we know that’s not true, it’s harder to relate to the movie. That said we’ll go ahead and provide some highlights and attempt to do it in chronological order (difficult as many of the themes are connected later on in the movie). Time to crack open our “literature 101” skills from middle school.
The Set-Up: Unless you’ve seen it recently this is a quick reminder of the cast members. and how the movie starts. If you remember it well skip this subsection. Names of Characters:To keep it simple we’ll refer to the cast members as follows to make it easier: Kim Family – Poor: Mr. Kim, Mrs. Kim, Daughter of Kim, Son of Kim; Park Family – Wealthy: Mr. Park, Mrs. Park, Daughter of Park, Son of Park; Others – Supporting Cast: Original Housekeeper, Original Housekeeper Husband, College Student Friend, Park Family Driver. By way of background, the Kim family lives in a basement style apartment with a bug problem and uses the gig economy to survive. The Park family lives in a mansion on top of a hill with a purely capitalist husband and a wife who has been insulated from hardship her entire life (due to wealth provided by husband). This is purposeful juxtaposition, both families also have an equal number of members wife, husband, daughter and son. In order to go to the Park family you have to climb up stairs then up a large hill, similarly, for the Kim family you go down hill and down stairs to an actual basement apartment that is below the street level (underground). This physical representation is for “upper and lower” class.
Kick off of Movie:The beginning is actually quite funny if you think it through to the end from a purely logical perspective. Son of Kim has a college student friend show up to his basement level apartment and offer him a great deal. College student is leaving to go study abroad and is romantically interested in Daughter of Kim ( a girl has has been tutoring). The exchange is clear. He’ll help his friend out (get him an easy tutoring job that pays well) as long as he doesn’t get involved with Daughter of Kim. In the end, this doesn’t work out so the message of the movie is to never help out poor people… It always ends in death and disaster (yes that sentence is a joke for those that are tone deaf!).
Back to setting up the movie: 1) college student helps Son of Kim with a tutoring job offer – he also gives the family a “lucky rock” – more on this later, 2) all he has to do is teach and avoid getting romantically involved with Daughter of Park, 3) Son of Kim has his sister Daughter of Kim forge some documents to say he went to Oxford, 4) before going off to interview for the position, Son of Kim tells his father “I don’t feel like I’m cheating as I’m going to get this degree in the future”, and 5) he goes off to interview and gets the job.
No One is Good or Bad: While the movie is set up to make it seem like Son of Kim is the protagonist, in the end, the viewer is not meant to favor either family. While the viewer feels bad for the poor family (since their living situation is terrible), they also take full advantage of the Park family acting as parasites. Similarly, the Park family is not evil. They pay everyone on time, they are not abusive and don’t purposefully insult anyone. Over time, without knowing it, Mr. Park does insult Mr. Kim’s smell but did not know he was hearing the conversation. If anything, the average viewer is likely a bit jealous of the lives of the Park family and believes the poor family is “smart” for taking advantage of them. You can see the jealously consistently come out in the movie as Mr. Kim has the gall to ask Mr. Park “do you love your wife” on multiple occasions. This is a clear insult and is a way for Mr. Kim to try and find something (anything) that Mr. Park doesn’t have.
The Beginning of the End: The first few minutes of the film has the crowd rooting for the poor family. Son of Kim finds a way to get Daughter of Kim a job as an art instructor. Now they have two forms of income coming from the Park family. One tutoring the Daughter of Park and another as an art instructor for Son of Park. At this point no one feels bad for either family, creating an extra form of income seems harmless. Until the scheming begins.
Daughter of Kim takes a ride in a car to the train station, utilizing the Park Family Driver. She leaves her underwear in the car and gets him fired. While the audience is still somewhat okay with this (the driver was making a pass at her), they are now ruining the lives of others for their benefit. This is a direct commentary on a common poor person complaint that “rich people take advantage of the lives of others”. Meanwhile, the poor family is doing exactly that. This becomes more apparent when they also get the Original House Keeper fired by faking a disease (that she has tuberculosis). Since the audience does not know anything about the Original Housekeeper they are at best neutral on the Kim family at this point. Hard to root for someone who has gotten two people fired.
At this point you’re wondering “what exactly are they going to do when college student comes back and sees this giant pyramid scheme”. At no point does the Kim family have any sort of long-term strategy. They are optimizing for the present moment. Their entire livelihood is built underneath one man (Mr. Park) and they have stabbed three people in the back to get there: first with Daughter of Kim becoming physically involved with Daughter of Park, second with the Park Family Driver and third the Original Housekeeper (three strikes and you’re out!).
The Event: The Park family goes out of town for a trip shortly after the Kim family gets the Original Housekeeper fired. The Kim family takes full advantage of this: drinking their alcohol, eating the food, laying on their beds and even reading the diary of Daughter of Park. During this time of festivities, Son of Kim makes the same remark as college student. College student planned on asking Daughter of Park to be his girlfriend when he got back and Son of Kim states the same thing while drinking with the Kim family. The Kim Family bursts into laughter as they know (and the audience knows) this makes little sense given their situation. On a quick sentimental note, the message from this is that you should always “tell someone you love them” and avoid waiting for the right time.
The event occurs when the Original Housekeeper shows up to the doorstep late at night. She forgot something in the “basement” before she left and needs to get into the home. The Kim family allows her to come in. Fast forwarding ahead, they find out that the Original housekeeper had a husband living in the basement the entire time. This horrifies the Kim family as they learn that there are people who are suffering much more than they are. Not only that but they got the original housekeeper fired.
A Failed Man as a Child: The scene is probably extremely painful for an unsuccessful man to watch. The husband of the original housekeeper is completely disheveled and his wife is quite literally feeding him out of a bottle. The choice of items was explicit as he is drinking milk out of a bottle and appears to be 50+ years old. Also. He has a practical shrine of Mr. Park and prays to him since he relies on his efforts to survive. The similarities between this man and Mr. Kim become clear when he later explains that he lost all of his money with a “cake shop”. This is exactly how Mr. Kim lost a large amount of money as well. The viewer quickly realizes that original housekeeper and her husband don’t have a “husband and wife” relationship, but more of a mother and child relationship.
The Battle: During this time, the housekeeper family and the Kim’s begin a physical battle. The housekeeper family has video proof that the Park family is a large pyramid scheme leeching off the estate. Instead of finding a way to work together they physically fight and battle it out. At one point, the housekeeper family is winning since they have their finger on the “send button” for a video recording the entire ordeal. During this time period, the original housekeeper mimics the talking points of a North Korean newscaster while telling the Kim family to “keep their hands up!”. It appears that this is meant to be a message as well, neither family is interested in cooperating and the poor people would rather fight each than come up with a clean strategy long-term. Give all the power to one person (the wrong one) and it ends with a horrible dictatorship
Use of Stairs Escalates/Emphasizing Class: At this point the movement going up and down the house and through the movie intensifies. The Kim family and the “housekeeper family” are moving up and down stairs frequently. To emphasize that they are poor, the movie has the characters moving up and down the stairs on all fours like animals/bugs. They are less likely to walk up and down the stairs on two feet. In fact, when the Kim family is hiding from Mr. Park and Mrs. Park at one point in the movie, they slide out from a table and move on all fours to escape *down* the stairs. Mr. Park is the last to go and isn’t even on all fours, he physically slides like a snake to make it to exit.
Use of Water: The use of water is the classic “cleaning” symbol. As they go back to to their apartment, it is raining and they find that their entire apartment is flooded. A degenerate who would piss outside of their apartment was splashed with water by both Son of Kim and Mr. Kim himself to get him out of the alley. And. At the end of the movie, the “lucky rock” not only floats miraculously to the top during the flooding but it is also placed in a makeshift river during Son of Kim’s “dream to do it the right way”.
Poor Live in Constant Paranoia/Stress: This part is something that is relatable and true. Stress is likely the worst thing for your health and the Kim family is under consistent stress. They are constantly stressed about bills/money, they then trade this stress for a fear of being caught, they then trade this stress for planning out a murder of the original housekeeper and the original housekeeper husband. Meanwhile they also endure small amounts of stress from the Park family. When interviewing for the driver position (Mr. Kim’s schemed job), he is forced to be extremely careful. Mr. Park stares at his coffee cup to see if he takes turns incorrectly and quickly ends conversations if Mr. Kim begins to cross “the line”.
Consistent Reminder of Plans: This was quite interesting, somehow the movie was able to identify this common theme that translates to the USA as well. People with a belief system that creates poverty believe that “plans don’t work”. So the best plan is “no plan”. Naturally, the viewer can quickly realize that they never had “good plans”. What did they intend to do when college student came back? What did son of Kim gain by starting a relationship with the daughter of Mr. Park (expense is lost friend who actually helped him a lot)? While the flooding of their apartment was a bad event, the majority of the decisions were made to optimize near term profits at the expense of long-term results.
Economic Mobility Okay for Young Women: On a separate note, not chronological, the only person who seemed to integrate quickly in the house was the daughter of Kim. She is depicted as an attractive Korean girl and quickly manages the operation in the home. Perhaps as a way to tell the viewer “if you’re a good looking girl you have a shot at integration!” This is the classic “marrying up” commentary that is made in societies in general.
Economic Immobility: Unsurprisingly, this was the overarching theme of the movie. Class warfare. One family has their house flooded the other family is trying to throw the “perfect birthday parties” have the “perfect food” and “have a perfectly maintained home”. Rich people problems versus poor people problems. In the end son of Mr. Kim dreams about working hard and eventually becoming rich to afford the house. Since we’re left with the knowledge that it is a dream, the audience receives an implied message “it’s not going to happen”. A feeling of hopelessness.
Naturally, we don’t agree with this sentiment. Living in the USA? It’s 100% possible to move up. Is it easy? No. Is it smart to backstab the first person who gives you a shot by sleeping with some girl he likes? No. Is it going to require more work than a person who was born on third base? Yes. Can you control that? No. So in the end, we didn’t agree with the overarching theme and are 100% not surprised it was one of the most popular movies of the year (won a bunch of awards). These conclusions don’t conflict as the average person is more likely to feel stuck (hint most people believe they deserve more than what they have). Despite all the facts (life is better for almost every economic class in the USA compared to 50 years ago).
Conclusion: For readers of this blog, the confusion is really two things: 1) avoid being flashy around people who are not in the same economic zone, you’ll end up creating jealousy and resentment. We’ve said it before, but calculate the annual income of the people in the room and say you make 20% less than that (even if you make much more) and 2) don’t go out of your way trying to bring someone else down. You’re going to end up creating more problems for yourself down the line. The short term benefit is never worth it as your brain will remember what you did (forever).
Addendum: Some of the other stuff we left out as it didn’t seem to have much meaning beyond theatrics. The stabbing and death scene where Mr. Kim kills Mr. Park and daughter of Mr. Kim dies (housekeeper husband stabs her) was complete chaos. Perhaps the point is that even if you’re ultra rich you don’t have complete control over your life and could die at any time (Mr. Park does in fact die).
The second one is pretty standard for movies like this: everyone is hiding something even the Daughter of Kim who apparently has a secret smoking addiction. Mrs. Park is also naive and child like as she has been insulated by the hardships of life while Mr. Park is overly fixated on making money while “outsourcing” a lot of parenting. The rest of the characters are faking that something (the boy is faking his artistic skills, the Kim family has fake jobs and the Daughter of Mr. Park is not doing much studying).
Newer Readers: On a somewhat related note, if you want to end up like Mr. Park without the murder scene you should probably check out our products: 1) Efficiency, 2) Triangle Investing and 3) Spending for Maximum Return. In order, you learn how to make a good amount of money (a million liquid within 10 years or so), how to correctly invest it and finally how we’d avoid blowing it all with intelligent spending.