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How ‘Parasite’ Uses Architecture and Landscape to Tell a Story

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Given director Bong Joon-ho’s portfolio of thrilling, allegorical creature-features like The Host (2006) and Okja (2017), it stands to reason that Parasite (2019) would star some eponymous gooey, parasitic monster. Though he claims all of his movies are monster movies, every character in the genre-bending smash-hit is unquestionably human. To what, then, does the title refer? Who, exactly, is the parasite in Parasite?

This is a difficult question to answer, and that is no accident. Fortunately, Bong, with the help of cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo, uses visual clues throughout the film to help the viewer answer this question — especially in the main set-piece, which was constructed entirely for the making of the film. The architecture of the film is key to being able to crack open the meaning of that compelling title.

Visually, Parasite starts from the bottom and works its way up. Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his family live underground, which is a position they are forced into due to their low-income status. It is an almost comically on-the-nose portrait of poverty: the house is dirty, drunken wanderers urinate by their window, and the family is ultimately forced to live deprived of civilization, and their desperation for work sees them folding pizza boxes for a living while they’re demeaned and ridiculed by their........

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