Black-comic thriller from South Korean director of Okja and Snowpiercer takes the top honors at the 72nd edition of the festival.
Interview by Dr. Tatiana Rosenstein, Cannes – France
Cannes Film Festival, May 23, 2019
This year, Bong Joon-ho returns to the Croisette’s main competition with “Parasite”, his first Korean-language film since “Mother” and he just won the main festival award, the prestigious “Palme d’Or”. We spoke to the film director Bong Joon-ho after the premiere.
It was in 2006 that he arrived in Cannes for the first time to present his Han River horror movie “The Host” in the festival section “Directors Fortnight”. His English-language films “Snowpiercer” (2013) and especially Netflix title “Okja” (2017) brought him world fame. A SoolCoree correspondent spoke to the film director Bong Joon-ho after the premiere on May 23, 2019.
When did the idea of “Parasite” come to you?
It started in 2013 when I was working on “Okja”. I kept asking myself questions like, what would happen if two families from different social classes would meet. I thought of it as a tragicomedy that depicts the humor, horror, and sadness of the situation, when you want to live a prosperous life together, but you run up against reality.
Why you named your movie “Parasite”?
It is an ironic title. My original title was ‘The Decalcomanie’. I was thinking about two families with four members each. But once I began writing my script I have focused on the poor family and the narrative started to follow their point of view. The poor family hopes for ordinary life, but even that is hard to achieve. So they are pushed into a parasitic relationship. Since the focus has changed so has the title. It became ‘Parasite’.
You used stone as a symbol of wealthy people and smell for poor people. Why?
In Korea, collecting stones is considered an old-fashioned hobby. Some of the stones could cost thousands and thousands of dollars, so this is a kind of hobby that poor people can hardly develop. In my movie, Park Seo-joon brings a stone to his friend Ki Woo. Through him, Ki Woo gets a job as a tutor. Because his friend comes from a wealthy family, you can say that the stone represents that part of society. Smell is something very personal. You need to stay close to a person to speak about the smell. When the rich husband talks about the smell of his driver, there is a certain reference to the people, who daily take the subway. It is very insulting to the entire class of people. In reality rich and poor seldom meet each other. Everything is separated, the restaurants, different classes in trains and flights. Only becoming a tutor, or working in a rich household, might bring together these two different classes, so close they can practically smell each other. It’s the horror of the story, but it is the power and magic of cinema.
“Parasite” comprises many social issues of Korean society such as faking a college degree, unemployment issues or even the latest events, when the indebted father in Uijung-bu kills his family a few weeks ago. The film is a fiction but it is too realistic and shocking. What do you think is the reason for those issues?
Indeed, a lot of shocking events happened in Korea recently. The country has managed to achieve enormous economic development and now we are known for K-pop, TV-series, which are popular across the East, but there are rich and very poor people existing in our society, and this is the other part of reality. We are living in an era when capitalism is the reigning order, and we have no other alternative. It’s not just in Korea, but the entire world faces a situation where the tenets of capitalism cannot be ignored. In today’s society, there are ranks and castes that are invisible to the eye. We keep them disguised and out of sight and superficially look down on class hierarchies as a relic of the past, but the reality is that there are class-lines that cannot be crossed. Where does it come from corruption, the craziness of the society? I cannot point out specific things. In my film, it is coming out of my personal vision and my creation, my own strangeness. My story is unique in its uniqueness you can also see this as a documentary. I can assure you that Korean society is much better and healthier than I am.
The female characters in your films are very devoted to the family, husband, and education of the child. That was also the case for the TV series “Sky Castle”, which has recently been broadcasted in Korea. Why are your women not very independent? Is it not against the latest feminist movement in Korea?
I don’t agree. In this film, my rich female protagonist is like a Madame of the family. She has all the power over the house; she is in charge of everything because she is obsessed with it. The husband is not the reason. And in my poor family, the female character is not shown in an old-fashion way at all. She is the one, who won a medal in the Olympics. It’s not her, but moreover her husband, who is vulnerable and weak. Not to mention other females in my movies, like the character in “Okja” played by Tilda Swinton. She can’t be more modern than she is.
You asked the press not to recall too much of the story. I wonder how this worry can be expressed in our times of social media and smartphones, the culture of instant information delivery. Have the gadgets and social media affected the way you talk about films and the way you make them?
I think the most important job of a film director is to control temper, rhythm, and speed of the story. Depending on the information you have access to before launching the film, the reception of that rhythm and speed can change and it could affect the perception and meaning of my work. We are confronted with too much information today – the Internet, social media. I think this culture has a bad influence on creators and creating process. I do not use social media and I do not have accounts on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It’s not coming from the opposition to the new trends of the society but moreover from my own fear to be too much networked, I prefer to hide and be on my own.
When did you realize that you want to be a filmmaker?
I wanted to become a filmmaker since I was 14 years old. But I also think of myself as a writer because I write all my scripts. And I think that in my next life I want to be a cartoonist because I love Manga and I like also to draw my storyboards myself.
The SoolCoree magazine features Korean drink, food, and culture. What is your favorite Korean Sool? What kind of Sool are you going to toast to celebrate Palme D’Or?
I like Soju and I will definitely toast with it. Especially premium quality Soju.