Parasite, written and directed by Bong Joon Ho, was one of the best received and reviewed films to screen at Fantastic Fest in Austin last month. While promoting the film, Director Bong (whose past films include The Host, Snowpiercer, and Okja) spoke to journalists (including myself) about what makes this particular film so special.
All unemployed, Ki-taek’s family takes peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks for their livelihood until they get entangled in an unexpected incident.
Parasite stars Kang-ho Song, Yeo-jeong Jo, and So-dam Park.
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Bong Joon Ho: A lot of people say this is a film about class struggle, but actually the working class don’t struggle against the rich in this film. They fight amongst themselves and there’s a line that’s being drawn and the rich always stay beyond that line. Mr. Park always stays beyond that line and whether or not it’s intentional or natural, he doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t even try to figure out what’s going on amongst the have nots. It’s almost as if, for Mr. Park, it’s something that happens in outer space. In the film there is one instance where that line is crossed (during the climatic sequence) and I think you can look at their relationship in that context. And so you have the poor father, and the rich family, they are so nice, and so kind on the surface, but underneath, within that character, something is being built up towards Mr. Park and in the end it all explodes. So this film, it doesn’t have a clear villain, no one is the bad person, but we reach this disastrous tragedy in the end and I think that in itself is the fear that this film delivers.”
Dread Central: After having seen Snowpiercer and Okja, I hear you’ve made a film called Parasite and immediately my expectation are that it’s a movie about an infection, potentially something that turns you into a zombie, takes over your body. But “parasite” can be slang for somebody who leeches off of you but in a scientific sense, the most successful parasites are the ones you never notice because it’s a symbiotic relationship. So I’m wondering in Korean, is it the same kind of double meaning with “parasite” and were you intentionally trying to play with people’s preconceived expectations about what your follow up to Okja would be?
BJH: In Korea the word parasite doesn’t have any ‘sci-fi’ connotation. A human parasite, that would carry a lot of disdain if you were leeching off someone else, so when we first brought up the title with the Korean marketing team, they were quite hesitant, they thought it was kind of a risky title. I explained to them that all the characters are mutually parasites, you could say the rich family was leeching off the labor that the poor family provides, so it’s not just the poor family that’s being the parasite.
DC: After Snowpiercer, which was completely in English, and Ojka which was fifty/fifty, was there a lot of pressure for you to make another film that would have more of an international appeal? Were people saying, “No, no, no…don’t make a strictly Korean movie; make sure there’s English in it…”?
BJH: That wasn’t really the case. I started working on Parasite during the post-production of Snowpiercer; that’s when I started talking to the production company. I just followed the ideas that occurred to me at the time so even before Okja I had already started working on this project. Snowpiercer at that time, nobody pushed me in regards to doing something bigger in an English language movie. One day I just found out about this French graphic novel and I was fascinated by it. The stories about the human survivors in the ‘running train’, the human survivors. If all the people on the train were from North Korea and South Korea, it’s going to be very awkward, so we have to do some international cast and the movie goes to some English language or something, but it truly is quite a mix. Some Korean actors there, a Japanese character, I mixed almost all English language but it wasn’t if I had a specific plan or strategy to work on Hollywood or American film. I was just very into the original graphic novel and the process was very natural and even for my upcoming projects. I have one in Korean and one in English, that I’m currently working on.
DC: Can you tell us a little bit about them?
BJH: Yes [laughs]. So it’s a horror film and it can only work in a relatively homogenous society like Korea, rather than a multi-racial society like the States. So the fear would only work if people had a similar skin color, maybe that’s even more confusing.
DC: So that’s the Korean one, what about the English one?
Bong: The English one is based on a true case from 2016, inspired by a CNN article I discovered last year. Sorry, I can’t discuss anymore.