Having already celebrated huge success in Cannes, where it won the prestigious Palme d’Or, as well as having been selected as South Korea’s entry for the Best International Feature Film for next year’s Academy Award, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is now unleashed upon American theaters. Bong revisits some of the themes he explored in Snowpiercer to craft a meticulous story of class, scams, and prejudices. In his review for /Film, Jason Gorber said Parasite “takes the audience along for a twisty, twisted ride and gets under your skin.”Bong takes the story of a family that scams its way into being employed by an upper class family, and makes it a roller coaster of expectations and emotions, one that plays with the home invasion genre, comedy, and epic tragedy all at once.
Following the Texas premiere of the film at Fantastic Fest, I talked to Bong Joon-ho about crafting such a twisted tale, its operatic score, and how much he wanted to reveal of that shocking ending. There will be major spoilers after the warning below.
Why did you choose to go with such an operatic score for the movie?
The film features Italian opera and classical Baroque tracks, but if you think about the characters in the film, no one really seems like they would listen to classical music – neither the Kim or Park families. So I thought it would be really fun to surround these characters in that sort of grandiose music. Also, as the Kim family infiltrates this rich household, they all pretend to be super sophisticated and elitist, so I thought the music suited that pretention very well.
Did that sentiment extend to the camera work? Because whenever we follow the Kim family in the beginning, the camera is very frenetic, but as soon as they move in with the Parks, it gets very still.
Overall, I wanted the film to sort of follow the perspective of the protagonist, and make the audience feel like they were infiltrating this rich house together with the characters. And as we’re walking into this space with these characters, you feel like you’re stepping into a different movie. The production designer and I worked on the structure of the rich house so that even if we move the camera just a little bit, we would see things we weren’t able to see before. The structure of the house itself allowed this sort of reveal of secrets and conspiracies, like when you first see the daughter eavesdropping in the background, and we also see the entrance to the basement covered in darkness, foreshadowing what comes next.
*There will be spoilers from now on.*
How early did you know that the movie was building up to this violent and bloody climax?
I didn’t set out to make a violent movie, but I had a feeling early on that the violence would gradually escalate as the story progresses and that it would ultimately lead to this unexpected tragedy, and I was prepared for that. If you think about these characters, they’re all people who are very far removed from violence in their daily lives, they’re just very normal and average people. So for me what was important was exploring what could get them to become violent.
Is that when the basement part of the story came into play?
In the beginning it was originally a story of just the two families. I had the idea for the script in 2013 and while I worked on Snowpiercer and Okja I sort of left this idea brew inside my mind. The third and final family only came to me during the last three months of the actual script writing process. I didn’t want to make a typical film that deals with class struggle, and what makes mine different is that the poor characters in my film have no intention of attacking the rich. All they can think about is how they can just stick onto their lives and make a living for themselves and pay respect to the rich family as well. So, there’s this irony where the have-nots fight one another, and they even try to hide that fight amongst themselves from the rich family. So if you think of the triangle structure of these families you have the Parks on top and then the Kims and Moon-kwang and her husband Geun-sae together at the bottom, fighting.
Did you always want to leave the ending that open?
I always like films that leave you thinking about them even after you leave the theater and go home. I never really explain everything 100%. I want to think I always leave room for the audience to think for themselves. So even the final character you see on the phone is very selective. I always make a very sharp and focused decision on who to end the film with, and it always focuses on this one character. With the rest you have to simply imagine what happens to them.
So then why choose this particular character of Ki-woo?
I think overall this story is something that I want to tell to the young generation of our times. We live in a world where it’s difficult to have hope, it’s difficult to feel hopeful. But it’s not as if we can just kill ourselves. We have to continue on with our lives. So as the story became a story for a young generation that is going through difficult times in their youth, I wanted to end the film with the young son.
Do you have an interpretation of what the ending means?
That’s quite difficult to say, but I have my own thoughts on the ending. I’m always curious myself as I write a script whether it’s about the characters or the situations or the ending. I have several interpretations for the ending myself, but with this ending I just wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to create false hope and pretend to be hopeful. It’s sad but I wanted to show reality in a raw and unfiltered way.
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