Jessica. Only child. Illinois, Chicago. Classmate of your cousin.

By Kimberly Truong
Nov 29, 2019 @ 8:00 am
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Parasite has everything: family drama, an ultimate heist, and suspense so anxiety-inducing that I spent the entire second half of the film digging my nails into my friend’s bicep, leaving red crescent-shaped indentation marks. 

But director Bong Joon Ho’s unflinching examination of class warfare wouldn’t be nearly as compelling as it is without one key element: “Jessica.” Only child. Illinois, Chicago. Classmate of your cousin. Those words will be meaningless to you unless you’ve seen the movie, but once you do, you’ll walk away with them committed to memory. 

Without revealing too much, Jessica — or Ki-jung to loved ones — is a fake art therapy teacher who, along with her financially-struggling family, scams her way into an affluent family’s life. She’s the cool, confident backbone of the movie: She’s a master of Photoshop; She finds a way to make even the fuzz from a peach seem menacing (trust me, you’ll see); She exhibits a level of scamming that would make Anna Sorokin and Elizabeth Holmes shake with envy. 

She’s everything I want to be. 

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And yet, the scene ingrained in my mind is chilling in different ways. In a moment of complete chaos — of complete sh—t, if you will — Jessica sits down and smokes a cigarette, a look of dissociated calm across her face. Though others may think of it as a hopeless, defeated scene, in that moment we see the clearest picture of a 20-something woman with a full understanding of the world she was born into, of her powerlessness, and her family's struggle — and yet she keeps going.

In actress Park So-dam’s capable hands, Jessica is naturally commanding, charismatic, and even, at times, the comic relief in the unease that carries throughout much of the film. Because my own family unit closely resembles that of Jessica’s — I’m the youngest daughter in a nuclear family with an older brother — it’s hard not to see myself in her, even if I’m not half as adept at forgery. Seeing characters as an avatar for yourself is almost expected out of most movie-going experiences; doing so in a movie like Parasite is like setting yourself up for a distressful identity crisis (see: the fingernails I dug into my friend’s arm). 

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After winning the Palme d’Or, the most coveted prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival, it’d be an understatement to say that Parasite has become one of the most talked-about movies of the year. When it opened in limited release in New York City and Los Angeles, it immediately sold out for the entire weekend in the only N.Y.C. theater that was showing it. And as it’s expanded to wider release, it smashed box office expectations and is now widely considered to be the frontrunner for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars next year. 

And I can assure you, it lives up to all of the hype and praise it’s getting — so much so that as we were exiting the auditorium, the first thing my friend did was turn to me and say, “There’s not a single person who has overrated that movie.”

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Parasite is now playing in theaters nationwide. 

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