What I Learned from the

What I Learned from the “Parasite” Commentary

Viewed with commentary on the Criterion edition. I took note of some things along that way that interested me:

  • The spiral in the characters of the title is an idea of the poster designer, it mimics the idea of a parasite in the body
  • All three living quarters are different sets
  • The protagonists’ (Kims’) house and whole street is built in a water tank
  • The fumigation is an important visual, the family is like an insect
  • The pizza job and discussion about possible employment is foreshadowing of the competition families from this stratum are required to participate in
  • Bong hates scholar stones because they are heavy. His father collected them. His father looked for them along streams, etc. They aren’t really supposed to bring wealth, Bong made that part up
  • Friendship between the rich and poor kids, in this case the boys is natural in Korea per Bong’s experience. Kim Ki-Woo is sort of obsessed with Min
  • Min, the rich boy invades the sub-basement without warning. It’s natural to him
  • Bong storyboarded everything. He has already edited everything in his mind and didn’t film a bunch of extra shots or inserts. The detail he put into the storyboards included FPS of the shots, so the everyone knew where slow-motion or etc was going to be used.
  • The fake diploma was to the university that Bong actually attended. According to him they were friendly about being included
  • Kurosawa’s High and Low (Heaven & Hell) inspired Bong in its use of geographic differences between the rich & poor
  • The second floor of the Park’s house exterior is done with VFX
  • The poor family always communicates and eats together, but in the case of the rich family you rarely see all 4 in the same frame.
  • He wanted the housekeeper’s visit in the rainy night to be in the middle of the film, so Bong needed to keep things very precise and efficient.
  • Da-song actually has no interest in Native Americans, they just enjoy it for being historical, and they consider it “fancy”. The Natives also represent someone who “already lived there”
  • The rich daughter is seeking affection due to lack of familial love.
  • The schizophrenia zone is based on something, but every painting has a corner, so the poor daughter Jessica is really a genius who probably just googled something about it.
  • Bong’s last name has some meaning in USA, but he didn’t know. The distribution company gave him a real bong as a promotional gift for The Host, and he had a hard time in the airport as a result.
  • Bong’s depiction of the rich husband and wife was to look cool, but its also very uncomfortable. There’s a clear hierarchy.
  • Casting: Bong started with Song Kang-ho (poor father), Choi Woo-shik (poor son), and Lee Jung-eun (original housekeeper) already in his mind since he worked with them in the past. He met Park So-dam (Jessica) during screenwriting. He felt her face looked like she was actually related to Choi Woo-shik. Casting the rich family came afterwards.
  • The hidden husband was hard to cast, he was last. Bong discovered him in an indie film. He was kept secret from journalists at first.
  • The rich father’s tech company is named “Another brick” due to Bong’s childhood love of Pink Floyd.
  • There’s no exposition, everything is integrated into the storytelling. To achieve this Bong was very inspired by George Miller’s Fury Road. It keeps going and it never stops.
  • All the car scenes are shot as VFX with the actors sitting in a parked car.
  • Some of Bong’s friends and family live in semi-basements. He knows that smell quite intimately.
  • For the long conversation among the Kims before the original housekeeper returns, Bong liked how actors did in different takes. He had the VFX team assemble different takes for the conversation without cutting the scene. The VFX team was able to make composite shots of the takes he wants.
  • For the family’s descent into the hidden basement, the team used the same VFX as Birdman to combine the two different sets in one shot.
  • The Taiwanese cupcake shop has a context in South Korea. Some years ago there was a trend with folks who lost their job to try opening a Taiwan cake shop - almost all of which failed. Now Taiwanese cupcakes are a symbol of the economic failure of ordinary people.
  • When the original housekeeper is directing the Kims to keep quiet and talking about launching nuclear missiles, she is imitating a specific North Korean news anchor who is very iconic.
  • Record player was always part of the original design. It is important to the rich family to show off the classy and artistic nature.
  • Ram-don is actually real and popular in Korea, even across generations. The one thing Bong added was sirloin for the rich people version.
  • The discussion of sex and drugs are related to their illicit desires. The smell of poverty reminds him of the car and car sex.
  • Regarding The theme of planning: For poor folks it’s almost impossible to plan things due to lack of control of various factors. For rich people its generally easy to make a plan and realize it.
  • The gym is the same location used for the quarantine in The Host. Bong didn’t recognize it at first until his location scout informed him.
  • The movie has a total of 998 shots, almost 450 are invisible VFX shots. This came about due to the cost and logistics of separate sets. For example, half of the trees in the rich family garden are VFX since those types of trees are actually really expensive.
  • The design of the hidden basement: Bong was inspired by a documentary he saw about a pedophile in Austria who kept a hidden basement (!!!)
  • The news broadcasts at the end are done by known journalists that Korean viewers recognize.
  • The thinking behind B/W version: Its a dream to make a B/W version as a cinephile. Bong couldn’t suppress his own desire to have a B/W version, and the DP had a similar dream. The budget required was pretty low also.
  • According to Bong’s estimation, the son would have to work 547 years as a working class person to save up and buy the house which makes the ending a really sad fantasy.
  • Bong is working on his next script!
  • Winning the Oscar was never in the plan.
  • Recording of commentary was done remotely during COVID-19 lockdown.