Warning: spoilers ahead for the Parasite's ending.
Bong Joon-ho's runaway hit, Parasite, became a hit for two reasons: it was relatable and it was terrifying how relatable it was. Which was exactly Bong's intention. The film as a whole has a lot to unpack, which is why many say it requires multiple viewings just to take in all the details and nuances. Even then, it's easy to miss certain parts or simply be left with quite a few questions.
The biggest questions? What exactly happened in the end and why did Mr. Kim kill Mr. Park? Let's take a deep dive into Bong's choices for the film's ending and unpack what went down.
Why did Kim Ki Taek kill Park Dong Ik in 'Parasite'?
Throughout Parasite, a painfully unsustainable wealth gap means the difference between privilege and dehumanization. Though the Kim family rejects those who they feel are below them, the third act of the film demonstrates that they are below as well, though they didn't understand that. Although they serve the Park family, they are in the Parks' home because they are working to be there. They do not feel that they are leeching off of the Parks and they condemn those who are.
Though they are aware that they are below the Parks, as the wealthy family points out things like their unpleasant and unclean smell, the Kims still establish a hierarchy. When the Parks' ex-maid (Lee Jung Eun) informs them that she had been hiding her husband (Park Myeong Hoon) in the Parks' basement and begs the Kims to allow her husband to stay in the basement, they shun her.
They do not see their situations as equal: one is parasitic, leeching without permission, and the other is working to stay in the Parks' home. That's why the end is so life-altering for the Kim family patriarch, Ki Taek (Song Kang Ho).
After being told that they were to not take a weekend off and instead be working for the Parks' son, Da Song's (Jung Hyeon Jun) birthday party, the party turns to chaos. The man hiding in the basement emerges, wanting vengeance on the family that wouldn't accept that they were "neighbors in need". He issues a blow to the head of Ki Woo (Choi Woo Shik), the Kims' son, and stabs Ki Jung (Park So Dam), their daughter.
The man is taken down, but Ki Taek is left being commanded by the Parks to take their son to the hospital after he fainted from the drama, while his own daughter is bleeding to death. While that might be enough to make Ki Taek want to kill his employer, Bong took it a step further. Dong Ik (Lee Sun Kyun) couldn't resist commenting on the housekeeper's husband's smell, even after the man was dead in front of him.
It was in that moment that Ki Taek realized, in Dong Ik's eyes and in the rest of the Parks' family's eyes, Ki Taek and his family are no better than the housekeeper and her husband. They live at the whim of the Parks, constrained by servitude, constantly trying to climb up out of the hole society has kept them in, only to be stomped back down again and again. The Kims would never be the Parks and they would never be able to stop living below them, controlled by them. It's in that moment that Mr. Kim stabs Mr. Park.
The true parasite in 'Parasite' isn't a person. It's hope.
Parasite ends pretty bleakley. We watch as Ki Taek takes the place of the housekeeper's husband in the basement, this time hiding out from the police. The Parks leave the house and another family moves in but the story remains the same. A rich family on top, a poor family serving them, and the poorer still left scavenging for scraps.
Though we feel an ounce of hope when Ki Woo promises to work hard enough to buy the house one day himself, freeing his father, the fantasy scene we see in the end cuts back to Ki Woo in a half basement, stuck in the shadows. The audience knows he will never buy that house.
According to Bong, he had intended to end the movie with a "surefire kill". The filmmaking technique means that you fire an extra shot to make sure someone is really dead. Like when you're watching an action movie and someone shoots an antagonist and then fires a final shot at him while he stands over him, even though the audience can guess that the character was dead before that.
Bong told Vulture, "Maybe if the movie ended where they hug and fades out, the audience can imagine, ‘Oh, it’s impossible to buy that house,’ but the camera goes down to that half-basement. It’s quite cruel and sad, but I thought it was being real and honest with the audience. You know and I know — we all know that this kid isn’t going to be able to buy that house. I just felt that frankness was right for the film, even though it’s sad.”
Cruelty is a common theme throughout the movie but it's felt most strongly at the end, and it's a big part of what compels Ki Taek to kill. In an interview with GQ, Bong said that, more than anything else, Dong Ik's cruelty towards the housekeeper's husband in regards his smell is Ki Taek's big trigger to kill Mr. Park.
"Because of the smell of this man, Mr. Park holds his nose, and I remember telling the actors to look at the man like he’s this stinky bag of food trash, and that's very cruel," Bong said. "And Mr. Park's reaction has to be that intense for it to act as a trigger for Ki Taek."
Parasite is streaming now on Hulu.