The president promised South Koreans a meritocracy

Oct 10, 2019

IN AN EARLY scene in “Parasite”, a hit South Korean film, a young woman from a poor family forges a university-enrolment certificate for her brother. He is about to apply for a job tutoring a girl from a rich family and hopes that the false credential will improve his chances. But when he shows up to the interview the girl’s mother barely glances at it, telling him she trusts him because he was recommended by her daughter’s previous tutor—his only posh friend, who has left to study abroad.

Even more than in most countries, academic credentials are valuable for getting ahead in South Korea. But the scene captures another truth: that if you know the right people, your exam results don’t matter as much. The two siblings in “Parasite” (pictured above, desperately trying to catch a free wi-fi signal) milk that insight for all it is worth, before things inevitably unravel. The film, which won the top prize at the Cannes film festival this year, also struck a chord with South Koreans: in a country of 52m, cinemas have sold 10m tickets for it since it was released at the end of May.

The resonance of a satirical film about inequality is hardly surprising. Moon Jae-in, the president, promised to make South Korea “fairer” when he was elected in 2017, after his predecessor was impeached (and later given a long prison sentence) for...

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