10 Facts About ‘Parasite’

There’s more to the upstairs-downstairs tragicomedy than the stranger in the basement.
Cho Yeo-jeong in ‘Parasite’ (2019).
Cho Yeo-jeong in ‘Parasite’ (2019). / Neon

Parasite was both the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and one of only three films in history to win both that and Cannes’s highest reward. The movie dazzled audiences with its hilarious, terrifying, genre-straddling social commentary and moral ambiguity. The South Korean movie follows a poor family who con their way into working for a rich one, posing as unrelated tutors and household staff to take what they can—but they aren’t the only ones hiding the truth.

Parasite started as a play.

Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho. / Imeh Akpanudosen/GettyImages

Director Bong Joon-ho told The Atlantic that Parasite began when a stage actor friend of his suggested he try to do a play. “Of course, with theater, the space is limited, but for all my previous films we had a lot of locations,” he said. “So I was thinking, What story could I tell with just two houses? I came up with the idea of a poor house and a rich house, because at the time I was working on the post-production of Snowpiercer, so I was really enveloped in this story about the gap between the rich and the poor.”

But Parasite the play was not meant to be: “[F]rom the very beginning, it didn’t work out that way,” Bong told Deadline. “From the first line, I was already thinking about the camera positions. I just realized that I had to do this as a film, as always.”

Alfred Hitchcock influenced Parasite.

Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock. / Tony Evans/Timelapse Library Ltd./GettyImages

There are a number of Hitchcock references scattered throughout the film—Bong told Vanity Fair that the director “always gives me very strange inspiration. I rewatched Psycho because the Bates house, not the motel, it had a very interesting structure.” The staircase in the Bates home even influenced the design of the Parasite house. Another potential reference is Da-song’s self-portrait, which seems to be a nod to a painting done of St. Francis by Marion Lorne’s character in Hitchcock’s 1951 Strangers On A Train. There is speculation that, rather than being a self-portrait, Da-song’s painting shows the basement-dwelling “monster” Oh Geun-sae, and eagle-eyed redditors have interpreted other elements of it as alluding to the film’s themes—for example, an upwards arrow with a corpse alongside is said to symbolize that others that must fall so you can progress. Not bad for a 7-year-old.

Bong Joon-ho’s experience as a tutor inspired part of Parasite.

While a lot of Parasite was informed by Bong Joon-ho’s own experience working as a tutor for a wealthy family, he was also inspired by the story of Christine and Léa Papin, French sisters who worked as live-in maids in the 1930s. On February 2, 1933, the sisters killed the wife and daughter of their employer in Le Mans, France. While both sisters were found guilty of murder, their case became symbolic of class struggle and the put-upon, oppressed working classes rising up. 

There’s more CGI in the movie than many viewers noticed.

Of the approximately 960 shots in the film, 400 contain visual effects. While the ground floor and garden of the house featured in the film were built on an outdoor movie lot, the second floor is entirely a CGI construct when seen from outside. Bong also had a 3D version of the whole mansion on his iPad, which he would use to meticulously plan camera placements and actors’ positions. “He was able to control the camera and the actors, as if it was a video game,” editor Jinmo Yang told Frame.io. 

Ram-don is not a widely used phrase.

Ram-don, the ramen-udon hybrid term used frequently in the subtitled version of Parasite, was coined by the film’s subtitle translator, Darcy Parquet, an American living in South Korea who worked closely with Bong. The dish itself came from a 2013 episode of the reality show Dad! Where Are We Going?, when one of the dads on the show combined Nongshim‘s Jjapaghetti and Neoguri noodles into a single dish for his son. The combo became known as chapaguri and was soon an incredibly popular comfort-food go-to (though not necessarily one including the expensive Hanwoo beef topping seen in Parasite). When the film made it even better known, Nongshim started selling a pre-mixed version. 

The Korean title of the movie has an interesting interpretation.

While the English title leaves the answer of who exactly the parasite is up to interpretation—the Kims are leeching off the Parks, but the Parks are leeching off society, and so on—there is one way of interpreting the Korean title that is less ambiguous. According to writer Layne Vandenburg, “The Korean title for Parasite, Gisaengchung (기생충), can be broken down to mean ‘parasitic’ (gisaeng, 기생) and ‘insect’ (chung, 충). This carries through to the first names of the Kim family: each name begins with ‘Ki-,’ which is frequently pronounced ‘Gi-,’ and the wife’s name is ‘Chung-sook.’ ”

Some of Parasite’s details were changed for international audiences.

In the international version of the film, Ki-woo Kim’s faked diploma is from Oxford University; in the Korean release, it comes from Yonsei University. Yonsei is one of the most prestigious universities in South Korea, but the filmmakers needed an institution that mass audiences would immediately recognize. Similarly, they changed references to the Korean messaging app KakaoTalk to WhatsApp. 

The studio worried that audiences might be offended by the movie’s commentary.

When presented with the final cut of the film, marketers were worried that audiences would be offended by the idea that they themselves were the parasites. As Bong told Rolling Stone, “There was concern around a particular line that Mr. Park says ... about subway riders having ‘a particular smell.’ Most people would be coming out of the movie and getting on the subway to go home, they told me, ‘You’re going to offend most of the audience!’ ” The purpose of the line is to show how absurd the Parks’ life is—of Seoul’s 9.7 million people, 7 million ride the subway every day, so it’s a particularly ridiculous piece of snobbery—but there might have been a murmur or two.

Reviewers praised Parasite’s multi-layered, multi-genre storytelling.

Many reviews of Parasite pointed out its unexpected blending of genres wrapped up in a social satire. There are moments of broad comedy and moments of abject horror. Bong himself described the film as “a comedy without clowns, and a thriller without villains.”

Bong felt that a “cruel and sad” ending was the only way to go.

While the ending is almost left ambiguous, even optimistic, with Ki-woo outlining his “plan,” Bong opted for the final shot of the film to destroy that ambiguity and make it clear he was destined for failure, showing the inescapable nature of his situation—broke, subterranean, hopeless. “It’s quite cruel and sad,” he told Vulture, “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.”

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