Parasite (2019) Ending Explained – Does Kim Ki-woo save his father?

Parasite Plot Summary

Parasite (Gisaengchung) is a 2019 Oscar-winning South Korean film, directed by noted auteur, Bong Joon-ho. It is a drama with socio-economic commentary and peppered with dark humour.

Parasite is the story of an impoverished family of the Kims, struggling to earn a living and residing in a damp, smelly, insect-infected, semi-basement apartment in a low-income area of Seoul. The Kims plan an elaborate scheme when the son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) lands a job as an English tutor in the house of the wealthy Parks.

Ki-woo, with the help of his sister, Ki-jung (Park So-dam), manipulates situations and manages to get his entire family, including his father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and mother Choong-sook (Jang Hye-jin), employed in the house of Park, posing as top-rated professionals from exclusive backgrounds and association. A rosy scenario and a win-win situation for all till the Kims discover a sinister secret lurking in the bowels of the Park’s basement.


What is the dreadful secret in Park’s basement?

The Kims are finally living the dream unbeknownst to the Parks that they all come from one family. One day, the Parks go off on a camping trip to celebrate their son’s birthday. The Kims make use of this opportunity to have their own little celebration at the mansion. Little do they have an inkling of the sequence of events that will bring about their downfall.

In the midst of their soirée, the doorbell rings. It’s the previous housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), whining piteously that she’s forgotten something in the basement. Mrs. Kim Choong-sook lets her in and is astounded to discover that below the basement is a secret subterranean bunker, a fallout shelter built by the previous owner, of which the Parks have no knowledge.

Therein secretly resides Moon-gwang’s husband, Geun-se (Park Myoung-hoon) since 4 years after his business went bust and he had to escape loan sharks. Moon-gwang, who was the housekeeper of the previous owner has been taking care of her husband till the Kims annex the place and get her kicked out.


Why is the olfactory sense used to show the rich-poor divide?

The poor, ordinary folks who use public transport, live in damp, cramped quarters and can’t wash or change their sweaty clothes frequently, reek of a stale odour that is different from the fresh fragrances that pervade the heavenly abodes of the rich. At one point, little Park Da-song remarks that all of their new employees have the same peculiar smell which he hasn’t yet learned to associate with poverty.

During the Moon-gwang fiasco, the Kims overhear Mr. Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) casually mentioning the stale odour that emanates from their chauffeur Ki-taek, ignorant of the fact that he is hiding a few metres away underneath their centre table. And soon Kim Ki-taek gets conscious of his odour whenever he’s with his employers.

The Parks are too cultured and well-bred to mention his odour in front of him but the foreknowledge of the distress caused to his employers by his body odour is a blow to his self-respect and dignity. And it’s Park’s sensitivity to smell that leads to his destruction in the end.


What trauma did young Park Da-song experience?

2 years before the incidents of Parasite, young Da-song has his birthday celebration at home. He creeps down to the kitchen late at night, to eat the leftover cake. He sees a demon and has a seizure. The parents rush the child to the ER and are informed by the doctors that, had there been a delay, it could’ve been serious. But turns out the demon is none other than Geun-se who simply emerged from the basement to eat

The incident scars the kid’s psyche. And from then on, the Parks celebrate his birthday outside. Later when Geun-se goes berserk during Da-song’s birthday party, the kid recognizes him as the same demon from 2 years ago and faints.


Why does Kim Ki-taek kill Park who is blameless of Geun-se’s rampage?

The birthday celebration turns into a nightmare. Geun-se escapes his bonds and goes on a rampage – he attacks Ki-taek’s son, breaking his head, stabs the daughter, Ki-jung and attacks his wife, Choong-sook.

Amidst the stampede, the distraught Park screams for chauffeur Kim who’s at his dying daughter’s side, to rush little Da-song to the ER. Park can’t fathom why Ki-taek is more concerned about the dying ‘Jessica’ (Ki-jung) rather than doing his duty. When Ki-taek is unresponsive, Park yells for the car keys which he throws towards him. But in the mêlée, Geun-se falls on top of the keys and is stabbed by Choong-sook with a skewer.

Ki-taek sees Park trying to retrieve the keys from below the dying Geun-se while covering his nose to block the man’s body odour. This is the last straw that breaks him. Kim Ki-taek is way beyond shocked to see his daughter dying, his wife being attacked and his son, unconscious and bleeding.

And the humiliation and embarrassment he has had to undergo while in their employment due to his body odour boils to the surface when he sees Park covering his nose to avoid Geun-se’s body odour. His rage on seeing his family’s predicament gets re-directed towards Park and he stabs him in fury.


What happens to all the players in this tragic drama?

Moon-gwang dies due to concussions from being pushed down the basement by Choong-sook — technically, involuntary manslaughter. The Kim daughter, Ki-jung is fatally stabbed by Geun-se, who in turn is killed by Choong-sook. Park is killed by Kim Ki-taek out of misdirected rage at seeing his daughter’s murder.

As per the authorities, a sudden rampage was sparked by an anonymous person who died at the scene of the crime. Unable to identify his motive or ID, Geun-se is labelled as a homeless lunatic. The authorities then fail to find Park’s murderer because there’s no way to trace the anonymous chauffeur. He was hired on ‘Jessica’s recommendation who’s now dead. So, nothing connects the chauffeur to Mrs. Kim Choong-sook and Ki-woo.

Also, no one knows about the fallout shelter and Moon-gwang’s body is never discovered, else, the whole story would’ve been out, and Choong-sook’s charge would’ve been a homicide. Instead, Choong-sook and Ki-woo are out on probation with minor crimes of forgery, trespassing and misrepresentation as the attack on Geun-se is seen as self-defence.

Meanwhile, Ki-taek quietly buries Moon-gwang’s body in the garden. So, there’s no way to link the ex-housekeeper to the entire episode. The bereaved Mrs. Park and her children sell off the house and move away.


How does Kim Ki-taek disappear?

There’s no CCTV footage of Kim Ki-taek anywhere because the previous evening, Moon-gwang cut off the Park’s CCTV wire before seeking admission. She knew that the Parks wouldn’t be home and she planned to sweet talk her way in and provide food to her hungry husband hiding in the shelter.

So, there is no footage of Moon-gwang entering the house or of Ki-taek’s movement. While the cops are searching outside, he re-enters the house through the garage and sneaks into the secret bunker. And since then, he has been living there, surviving on food that he raids from the fridge. Of course, all this could be an injured Ki-woo’s imagination as Parasite has an ambiguous ending.


What does the stone signify?

It is a zen stone gifted by Ki-woo’s friend, Min-hyuk at the beginning of Parasite, who offers him the job of a private tutor at the Parks. The stone is supposed to bring good luck. It is after the possession of the stone that the fortune of the Kims changed for the better. However, unbridled prosperity brings about their downfall and ironically the same stone is used by Geun-se to take down Ki-woo.

Towards the end, when everything returns to its natural state, Ki-woo puts the stone in the water as a form of penance, signifying that the stone too has returned to its own place. It doesn’t belong to him, it belongs to nature, just like his luck is his own and he shouldn’t steal others’ fate.


Does Ki-woo save his father?

Due to Geun-se’s attack, Ki-woo undergoes brain surgery and finally recovers. Time passes; Ki-woo keeps posting fliers for months on end looking for his missing father. The authorities too have almost given up on the case.

One day, he goes up the mountain from where can get a good view of the city and especially the house. As it grows dark, he sees a light in the place, blinking at intervals. It’s a letter in Morse code – written by Ki-taek to his son which he relays every night. And through that letter, it is revealed how he ended up in the basement.

For Ki-woo it’s a huge relief. He at least knows his father’s whereabouts and that he’s alive. He pens a letter for his father even though there’s no way of sending it across, picturing himself as a rich man, buying the house and reuniting with his father.

Parasite ends with Ki-woo looking at his letter while still sitting in his decrepit apartment, making viewers wonder if he can ever make his dream a reality. It can also be interpreted as Ki-woo imagining that his father escaped and hid in the shelter and in reality, no one knows what happens to Ki-taek.


Who is the real parasite?

A parasite is an organism that lives inside a host creature, drawing nourishment at the expense of the host and directly or indirectly causing it harm. The Kims manage to worm their way into the Park household through illegitimate means and ‘infest’ the place. So do Moon-gwang and her husband. But neither families are criminal. They are poor folks, struggling to survive in the dog-eat-dog world.

When the Parks are out, the Kims have their own little fiesta at the mansion. Choong-sook mentions that suppose, the Parks were to suddenly return, they all would scatter and hide, just like cockroaches. Prophetic words — a few hours later, the Parks return and the Kims do run like cockroaches.

The movie showcases this symbiotic relationship between the rich and the poor. They both need each other. The rich can’t manage without servants. And the clever and unscrupulous amongst the poor have adapted to feeding off the rich.

The Parks are wealthy, sophisticated and pretentious. The Kims exploit the Parks’ weakness for their susceptibility to upper-class social norms, and leaning towards Western associations and values. The Kims take on English names, posing as either US returned or associated with exclusive US-based employers. But who is exploiting whom?

The rich are no saints and their wealth speaks of exploitation or marketing blitzkrieg as they sell unachievable dreams to millions of naïve, unsuspecting masses. The rich don’t get rich by spreading the gospel to the poor and taking care of the sick and needy. They exploit them as well, and one starts wondering who is the real parasite here – the poor who cannot cause any actual harm or the rich who more or less control the world.

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