With his latest film, the twist-filled Parasite, writer-director Bong Joon Ho addresses wealth inequality in a startling new way that marks an evolution in a career that includes such titles as The Host (2006), Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017). The story concerns a wealthy and largely distracted family, the Parks, whose existence is thrown into upheaval by their teenage daughter’s English tutor and other members of their staff. The Academy in LA was happy to welcome him to talk about the creation of this film along with two of his actors, Park So Dam and Song Kang Ho, who brought this startling tale to life for the screen.
In addition to inspiration from the classic Korean chiller The Housemaid (1960), the idea for the film originated with Director Bong’s own job years ago as a tutor for a rich middle school boy, which ended up in termination after two months when they just spent the whole time talking. “When I first went to their home, the boy took me to the second floor and showed me their private sauna,” he recalls. “And I vividly remember being very surprised to find one in a private home.” That inspired the creation of the neighborhood inside a giant water tank, “and the content also may look dirty, but it was actually the same product that goes into clay mask for your face packs that Koreans are known for. So it was actually a really nice skincare system!”
The film continues the class concerns of Snowpiercer but here limits it to two primary, static locations; as the director puts it, the Kim family echoes current events worldwide: “They’re not dumb. They’re very capable. It’s just that they don’t have any jobs and I think that in itself reflects the current times that we live in… The poor family has a lot of affection for each other and if you look at the rich family, they’re pretty much the same. I think ultimately it comes down to this idea about the line; Mr. Park constantly talks about not crossing the line and I think that’s what differentiates the two families.”
The film also marks his fourth film with Song, a partnership the actor sums up simply: “We really don’t talk too much, but we have twenty years of collaborating. So we just kind of drank and we just hang out. But you know there’s like a mutual trust.”
Without spoiling the plot, the ending leaves many questions and room for interpretation, something that carried over to real life for Park who remarked, “ After shooting the ending scene… it finally started hitting me, not at once, but kind of in a gradual, slow way. I started to think that, wow, Ki-jung will not, and by that I will not be able to have another meal with them, I will not have another moment where we see everyone together and that kind of feeling built up and still building up even to this day.” Adds Bong, “Like most actors, she’s very emotional — So even for the flood scene, she was watching it being shot on the monitor and she was crying.”
Though he doesn’t intentionally set out to make a direct social statement in his films, Bong finds that the final products do end up offering a kind of commentary about the status quo. As he observes:
“ I watch a movie like The Big Short by Adam McKay and I learn many things, some economic situation kinds of things. Of course this film doesn’t depict only what’s going on in Korea. You get an insight into families and the lives that people lead in Korea., but I think this story applies to countries all over the world.”
Watch the full discussion: