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Architecture in Movies - "Parasite"

Architecture is everywhere. By textbook definition, it is the physical world around us. Wherever we look, there is an element of architecture noticeable. Not just in the real world, but even in the virtual world, the impact of architecture is just as strong - if not, stronger. It acts as a backdrop for every scene. In this blog, we will be talking about how architecture is used in movies as a language to communicate the storyline.



The 2020 Academy award winner for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design (to name a few) – Parasite does exactly the same. Bong Joon Ho, the director, captures the essence of the movie through built spaces through set design. How he has managed to achieve this through architecture will be explored further. Read on and dig deep into the architecture of this cinematic masterpiece!



Bong Joon Ho, along with production designer Lee Ha-Jun have created a world for their characters right from scratch. Both the residences and the surroundings of the protagonists were all built on set! This is a marvelous feat to achieve in production design, something which Lee Ha-Jun has done to perfection. Parasite is an Oscar winning South- Korean dark comedy thriller film. The theme of this movie is social and economic disparity, seen between the wealthy Parks family and the Kim family, who struggle night and day to make ends meet. This class divide is shown in the film through architecture. Bong Joon and his team use various details of architecture to achieve this, all of which we will be diving into. Don’t worry, no spoilers here!

MODERNISM VS SEMI-BASEMENTS


The Parks residence is large, an elevated villa with an open plan layout with large windows and vast indoor spaces reflecting the extent of their wealth. The Kim family however lived in a dingy semi-basement in the dark, cramped underbelly of Seoul. In this way, it showcased how the built environment indicated the characters’ rung on the ladder of social hierarchy. Architecture is seen to be playing an important role in the social class aspect of their lives.


Spacious rooms, an open plan, large garage space, high-end technology are some of the many features of the Parks residence. The house had a minimalist approach with an extensive use of glass. An example of this is the large window in the living room which looked out onto their large lawn. This focal point in the house is important to the plot of the movie.


LOCATION MATTERS


The Parks residence was seen to be set in a high end residential neighborhood. Their surroundings were calm and serene with ample greenery, bordered with concrete boundary walls so high, that outsiders were unable to look in. They act as one of the many metaphors in the film, a depiction of how a normal pedestrian would be unable to even take a glance into the abundance that is the Parks villa. The house was secure and private, with no disruptions from the neighborhood.



On the other hand, there was a stark difference in the location of the Kims’ residence. They lived in a dingy semi-basement in the underbelly of Seoul. The neighborhood reeked of disorderly mess. There was garbage thrown out onto the street with dysfunctional drainage systems. The cramped basement the Kims lived in clearly showcases their financial condition. The crowded semi-basement, not completely underground, shows the viewer that the Kims still yearn for hope and believe they have a chance to escape their current situation. Production designer Lee Ha Jun made sure these streets were represented accurately, visiting similar towns and villages in Korea to produce an exact replica.




DO ONLY THE RICH DESERVE SUNLIGHT?


Lighting plays an important but very different role in both the households. The Parks residence has ample sunlight streaming in through the huge glass wall in their living room, providing sufficient lighting. The Parks enjoy a beautiful scenery-like view from the window while the view from the Kims clerestory window is a whole different story.


The semi-basement is dingy, with barely any sunlight streaming in through the clerestory. This leaves their house dark and gloomy, much like their lives compared to the rich. Through the window, the Kims looked out onto dirt and trash, a disappointing view. Their house was almost always filled with stink bugs - proving how dilapidated their living condition was.


INTERIORS AND DETAILS


The extravagant Parks residence used dark wood interiors with tones of grey through concrete to provide a contrast with the exterior. A warm atmosphere was created with the use of yellow-toned lights. Natural lighting played a big part in shooting of the film, for which the large living room window was perfect. Lee Ha Jun says that the staircase is one of the key visual elements in the film. He showcased the gradual change of class difference between elevated and low-rising areas. The appearance of the neighborhoods also was seen through how the Kim family travelled to and fro their poor neighborhood on the bottom to the rich neighborhood at the top, both metaphorically and literally.


The lavish interiors of the mansion (Source:https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/bong-joon-ho-parasite-movie-set-design-interview)

All in all...


The Parasite, aside from being one of the most critically-acclaimed movies of all time - is also an architectural masterpiece. Its outstanding production design is one of the best in recent times. The most impressive aspect of the film was its myriad of metaphors, dictated through architecture. Both Bong Joon Ho and Lee Ha Jun had to think like architects apart from being a director and production designer, respectively. This was what resulted in the creation of the modernist marvel, and the rundown semi-basement.


Next time you see a sleek, modern, glass, wood and stone creation, always remember - there might be more to it than what meets the eye. Also, never underestimate a semi- basement, after all - only half of it is underground, the other hope is open to a land of opportunity and..deceit? With a twist so dark and unexpected, along with light hearted comedy entangled with deep metaphors, Parasite is one movie, architecture fanatic or not, you need to watch!