Architecture in Bong Joon-Academy ho’s Award-winning film ‘Parasite’ isn’t quiet; it screams. The built environment repeatedly reveals where people belong into the social structure — or whether they have a presence at all.

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An architectural review of Parasite: Inequality through Architecture - Sheet1
The Two Children of the Kim Family_CJ ENM Corporation

The film begins at the residence of the protagonists, the Kim family. This is a banjiha, or semi-basement flat, which is a prevalent working-class housing type in South Korea. It accurately portrays the Kim family’s mentality. Because you’re still partly above the earth, there’s a sense of hope and possibility as you’re still getting some sunlight and haven’t entirely descended into the basement. It’s a strange mix of hope and anxiety that you’ll fall even more. That is exactly what the protagonists are experiencing. The way the Kim family uses their space, improvising as needed, represents their economic situation. The Kim family is obliged to continuously hustle, adjust accordingly, and discover new ways to get money because they don’t have steady occupations. They might not be able to make ends meet if they decelerate even for a second.

The main distinction between the working-class and upper-class experiences in ‘Parasite’ is not extravagance but stability. The only other notable dwelling place in the film is a glittering new mansion surrounded by concrete barriers. It is owned by the Park family, for whom Ki-Woo Kim, the Kims’ college-aged son, works as an English tutor.

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An architectural review of Parasite: Inequality through Architecture - Sheet2
Set Designed to Showcase the Great Space Management_ CJ ENM Corporation

A lot has been written about the Parks’ stunning home, which is alleged in the film to have been designed by Namgoong Heonja, a well-known architect. The space is so realistic that many cinephiles concluded it was a real house, a spectacle of architecture. It is, however, a collection of sets.

The fact that Parks’ home was allegedly created by a well-known architect is an important feature. Ki-Woo is departing from the turbulent and improvisational space of working-class Seoul and entering designed architectural space as soon as he enters the house. Bathrooms aren’t utilized for accessing the web, and light fixtures aren’t used as drying racks. The Park’s house, on the other hand, testifies to the logic of its overall design with every element. This is a living environment that has carved out a place for itself in society. It declares that it has the right to exist.

An architectural review of Parasite: Inequality through Architecture - Sheet3
Secrets Hide Even in Meticulously Designed Spaces_ CJ ENM Corporation

The breakthrough setting, an area that no one knew existed in that residence, will, nevertheless, set off the most thrilling element of the plot. Changing surroundings alters the narrative, whereas expanding a home adds to the history. On the ground floor, illusion reigns supreme; upstairs, the sphere of social ambition reigns supreme, as young tutor Kim strives to form a relationship with his pupil with the explicit goal of joining that family; and below… The worst is highlighted below. The domain of collective and societal repression lies beneath, and the truth is so difficult to maintain.

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An architectural review of Parasite: Inequality through Architecture - Sheet4
Spotless Design of the Park House_ CJ ENM Corporation

The Parks’ living quarters do a lot more than just convey spot-on portrayal. Something sinister is at work in the house, and it’s driving the plot in an unexpected direction. “Because houses generally should feel extremely mundane, warm, and comfortable,” Bong adds, “their elegant, tastefully furnished, well-lighted house sets the atmosphere so well for the big twist.” And it’s when that’s jeopardized that we’re most afraid.” The Park family’s feigned stability is eventually shown to be a ruse. The film’s surprising conclusion demonstrates that dark secrets may be found in any home, even those with open floor plans. It also demonstrates that class conflicts can only be contained for a limited time. It’ll all end up breaking if inequality continues and individuals are unable to participate in decision-making for their own lives.

An architectural review of Parasite: Inequality through Architecture - Sheet5
Grim Reality of the Kim Neighbourhood_ CJ ENM Corporation

Since the storyline is about wealth inequality, they had to take a different approach when it came to sound and lighting. The less sunshine you have access to, the poorer you are, and this is true in real life as well: You have minimal window accessibility. Mr Park’s home is simple, uncluttered, spacious, and well-organized. It’s a large house with a large garden with regulated colours and materials, in stark contrast to the semi-rural surroundings. In contrast to the expensive mansion, Kitaek’s semi-basement neighbourhood is more colourful, but the colour tones have been limited to the extent feasible so that no one tone stands out. In comparison to the rich mansion, the textures are rougher, and the volume is denser. The portrayals shift from the affluent house to the semi-basement neighbourhood to demonstrate the rising density that symbolizes the class divide across raised and lowered places.

Ki-woo fantasies of owning the Parks’ house to release his captive father at the end of Parasite; however, this fantasy is only that — he is still trapped in his “banjiha.” Thousands of these semi-basement flats may be found in Seoul alone. Traditionally, the homes were bunkers constructed during the Korean War. Until a housing crisis in the 1980s forced the government to modify the law, renting them as residences was prohibited. Parasite’s excellence is due to this kind of meticulous attention to architectural minutiae.

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References

  1. Journal. (2020). The Architecture of Inequality: On Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite.” [online] Available at: https://architizer.com/blog/inspiration/stories/the-architecture-of-parasite/.
  2. ‌O’Falt, C. and O’Falt, C. (2019). Building the “Parasite” House: How Bong Joon Ho and His Team Made the Year’s Best Set. [online] IndieWire. Available at: https://www.indiewire.com/2019/10/parasite-house-set-design-bong-joon-ho-1202185829/.
  3. KCRW. (n.d.). “Parasite” tells a story of class through architecture. [online] Available at: https://www.kcrw.com/culture/shows/design-and-architecture/architecture-in-parasite-movie-villain-homes/parasite-tells-a-story-of-class-through-architecture.
  4. ‌Wallace, R. (2019). Inside the House From Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. [online] Architectural Digest. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/bong-joon-ho-parasite-movie-set-design-interview.
Author

Faria is an architecture student at IGDTUW, Delhi. She feels passionate towards learning and actively looks for new experiences. She believes that the design language should be universally accessible and understood, hence, she strives to uncover hidden dynamics of design by shifting the language from visual to verbal.

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