Bong, right, on set
Photo: Courtesy of NeonBong, right, on set

Q&A: Director Bong Joon-ho on his masterful social satire Parasite

The South Korean filmmaker has elevated sci-fi with Snowpiercer and Okja. Now, he aims for the living room.

Joshua Rothkopf

Your new film is about a struggling family that secretly feeds off a wealthy one via various jobs. Class feels central to so many of your movies. Why does the subject interest you?
I never intended to focus on this issue of class. I do see this gap between the rich and the poor. But even more than that, I’ve always been interested in stories about money and power. Those are the dramas that fascinate me. I’m not really that into superheroes.

You’re crushing dreams. Where did Parasite’s idea come from?
When I was in college, I actually tutored for a rich family. It was more than just tutoring—I felt like I was peeping into their private lives. Of course, I didn’t do anything bad like in Parasite.

That house you shot in is incredible. Where did you find it?
I knew the basic structure I wanted, but we couldn’t find the right house, so we actually built it. The poor family’s house, too—we built it in a water tank so we could do the flood sequence.


Photo: Courtesy of Neon

Wow. Ari Aster exerted the same level of control on Hereditary.
I just watched Midsommar here in Korea! I don’t know if he shot that in a real Swedish town, but it felt like a small universe that existed on its own. I try to do that too.

How much is planned out ahead of time?
I try to follow my storyboards as closely as possible, but once I set the stage, I want the actors to be free. I want things to happen, things we haven’t planned.

Parasite won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and people are talking about it going all the way with the Oscars. How important are awards to you in the grand scheme of things?
They are important, in that they help us filmmakers continue our careers. Winning the Palme was a huge honor. But at the same time, it can feel like a burden. So I try to pretend it didn’t even happen. Too many people around me keep on mentioning it.

You make dark movies. Would you call yourself a cynic or hopeful?
There’s pessimism, sure, but always a sliver of hope. Supplying hope too easily actually lowers the value of it. Showing a peek of it, within the darkness, shows more respect.

Parasite is now playing. Read our five-star review.

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