Parasite is the South Korean black comedy thriller that has taken the world by storm. Following the members of an impoverished yet close-knit family who infiltrate the household of the wealthy Parks family by posing as unrelated, skilled professionals, the film has received critical acclaim (and recently became the first South Korean picture to receive Academy Award recognition, much to director Bong Joon-ho’s delight).
Parasite leaves you gripped yet strangely conflicted over where your loyalties lie – the epitome of modern times. We’ve rounded up 10 facts you probably didn’t know about this highly charged thriller.
10. The Parks’ house is actually an elaborately constructed set
In the film, the Parks’ house is said to have been designed by esteemed architect Namgoong Hyeonja. In reality, the “house” was actually assembled on a set, and was built completely from scratch. The first floor and garden were constructed on an empty outdoor lot, whilst the basement was also included in the set.
The film’s director, Bong Joon-ho, designed the house himself, and was adamant that the house should consist of two distinct sections, with the wealthy and the poor entirely segregated.
After he designed the initial plan for the Parks’ mansion, Bong consulted with an architect who rather scathingly informed him that “No idiot would build houses this way. This is ridiculous.”
9. A black and white version of the film has just been released in cinemas
Director Bong had always felt an affinity with black and white cinematography, and due to this fascination, decided to release a black and white version of Parasite in January 2020.
This re-release was debuted at the Rotterdam film festival, with later screenings at small art house theatres throughout the US.
Bong hoped that the absence of colour would heighten the contrast in living conditions between the poor and the wealthy, inviting viewers to perceive the film in a new light, with the atmosphere and dream-like quality accentuated.
8. The director based the film on his own experiences working as a tutor for a wealthy family as a young man
In Parasite, Ki-woo is hired as a tutor for the Parks’ daughter, Da-hye, with whom he subsequently forms an inappropriately close relationship.
According to Bong, this idea was actually based on his own experiences. As a man in his early 20s, Bong had worked as a private tutor for a wealthy family in Seoul, and he decided his experiences would make an interesting story.
Originally, Bong intended for the story to unfold in a stage production. However, he soon found himself considering camera angles and decided to embark on writing a screenplay instead.
7. The lead actors were chosen before the screenplay was even finished
Song Kang-ho, who plays the father of the Kim family, and Choi Woo-shik, who plays son Ki-woo, are long-time collaborators of director Bong.
Choi had been involved with Bong’s last production, Okja, and Bong was keen to have the pair star in Parasite. In fact, he approached Choi and Song before he had even completed the screenplay.
According to Bong, had Song declined, he would never had made the movie, seeing as Song was an integral part of the cast and he could think of no one else who would better fill the role.
6. Bong was so anxious working with expensive props he began to physically shake on-set
In an interview with Korean magazine Cine21, Bong recounted his experiences filming in a hyper-rich Korean home (albeit on a set).
Bong stated that he had been so nervous of breaking the expensive props that his hands were literally shaking from anxiety.
This anxiety was particularly heightened when he was returning a trash can that had been used as a prop; it was of a high tech variety worth over $2500.
5. Ki-woo gets a job as a tutor because it was the only realistic way the lives of the rich and poor would become intertwined
Ki-woo is the first member of the Kim family to infiltrate the Parks’ home, aided by his role as a private tutor.
When writing the film, Bong felt that being a private tutor was the only realistic way Ki-woo would have been allowed into the home of a wealthy family.
The sad reality is that in South Korea, and indeed much of the world, the two extremes of the class spectrum rarely intertwine, and are instead bound by segregation and judgement.
4. There are nods to Alfred Hitchcock throughout the film
Throughout Parasite, there are several nods to the great director Alfred Hitchcock. One of these is the fact that stairs are used as a motif.
For example, at the Parks’ home, we see Park Dong-ik ascend the steps to his mansion, mirrored by the Kim family, who descend the steps to their basement.
Another key theme is voyeurism, and the element of perspective. When Ki-woo arrives at the Park home for the first time, we are introduced to the house through his eyes, heightening the viewer’s affinity with the character.
3. The English subtitle translator invented a term specifically for the film
When the Parks return from their camping trip, Yeon-gyo instructs Chung-sook to prepare a dish she refers to as “Ram-don”.
This term was coined by the film’s subtitle translator, combining the name of the noodles used to make the dish: ramen and udon. The meal is actually known in South Korea as Jjapaguri, but Bong felt this would be too difficult for English speakers to understand.
Yeon-gyo also asks for a specific type of meat to be used, Hanu. Hanu is one of the most expensive meats in the world, and serves as a satirical commentary on the Parks’ wealth.
2. Bong actually met someone with a severe peach allergy prior to writing the film
In Parasite, the Kims force out the Parks’ former housekeeper by triggering her allergic reaction to peaches. As bizarre as this may sound, Bong actually drew upon his own experiences for these scenes.
Bong recounted how, whilst in college, he once went on a training trip during which one of his friends confessed he was severely allergic to peaches. He was met with disbelief by his fellow students, but was given the opportunity to demonstrate the effects of his allergy after another boy threw a peach at him.
Bong was fascinated by the idea that something as pretty and benign-looking as a peach could incite such a serious and life-threatening reaction.
1. There are differences between the film’s dialogue and subtitles to make it funnier for English-speaking audiences
Darcy Paquet served as the subtitle translator for Parasite, which at times could be challenging due to cultural differences.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between South Korean and English-speaking audiences, Paquet often substituted South Korean references for terms better understood by Western audiences.
For example, when Ki-taek is inspecting the forged documents, the reference to Seoul National University is replaced by Oxford University in an attempt to ensure the joke would land with English-speaking viewers.