Parasite, Bong Joon-ho’s black comedy of manners a couple of artful poor household infiltrating a naïve wealthy family is fiction, and the properties of each households within the Oscar-grabbing picture had been constructed on sound phases.
But neighborhoods like these within the movie really exist in Seoul – and Asia Instances can reveal a narrative that bears exceptional similarities to the plot of Parasite.
Ok-popster Psy received world fame with 2012’s Gangnam Type, a catchy quantity lampooning the flashy district south of Seoul’s Han River. The prosperity of Gangnam is vividly apparent to any customer, however the ‘hood, which rose from rice pastures within the 1970s, is just not the house of South Korea’s outdated cash: Its repute is nouveaux riche.
South Korea’s 1% does put money into Gangnam – property is a massively favored Korean funding vacation spot, driving rampant hypothesis – however doesn’t dwell there.
Excessive society lives at high-altitudes: Neighborhoods constructed round networks of alpine roads that skirt the gradients of northern Seoul’s forested mountains, perched excessive above the noise, hustle and bustle of the crowded, traffic-jammed and plebeian districts under.
A resident of 1 such district has revealed a private story that compelled her to flee – and that bears shut similarities to Bong’s story of haves, have nots and nefarious incidents.
Whereas there isn’t any “class” in South Korea – the traditional class system was dismantled within the 1880s, and disappeared in the course of the 1910-1945 colonial period – earnings inequality exists. Consequently, the fashionable class is essentially outlined by wealth. A key wealth indicator is one’s house.
Class-defining properties can, talking very typically, be divided into a number of broad classes.
These of the center class are obvious to – certainly, can’t be missed by – anybody who travels wherever in city Korea: Probably the most placing architectural function of nearly each metropolis is its massed ranks of an identical, high-rise condominium complexes.
Bong’s movie ignores the bourgeoisie, focusing as a substitute on the starkly polarized lessons. Nonetheless, the residences of excessive and low society are much less architecturally obtrusive and could be troublesome to trace down in Seoul, a relentlessly middle-class capital.
The poor dwell in aged, low-rise flats or in basement-, ground-, or upper-story flats in hemmed-in villas jammed into crowded, business/residential neighborhoods.
Extra secluded and architecturally sound villas perform function residences for the upper-middle and higher lessons. Luxurious flats additionally exist in clusters.
Nonetheless, the domiciles of the true elite are walled-in mansions perched on mountain slopes. These areas aren’t straightforward to achieve for the informal customer: For topographical and social causes, no subway stations serve these uncommon climes.
Right here reside financiers and media stars, in addition to senior diplomats and affluent expatriates. However probably the most moneyed (and discrete) residents are the “royal households” who management the chaebol – the mighty conglomerates that dominate South Korea’s economic system.
Simply three such neighborhoods exist. “They’re at all times a superb handle to point out ‘I’ve cash, my household is wealthy!’” “Ms Kim,” a well-do-businesswoman instructed Asia Instances. “Handle is essential in Korea.”
Mount Namsan was developed within the 1960s, Songbuk Dong (“dong” is a suffix that means district or village) within the late 1960s and 70s, and Pyeongchang Dong within the 1970s and ‘80s.
Samsung’s Lee household is domiciled on Mount Namsan, the landmark that looms over downtown Seoul.
Hyundai’s Chungs, LG’s Koos and SK’s Chois reside in Seongbuk, on the jap slope of Mount Bugak, which stands behind town’s medieval Gyeongbok Palace and the presidential mansion. Seongbuk was developed within the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
The Chos of Hanjin/Korean Air, in addition to plenty of retired Ok-drama and Ok-pop stars, dwell in Pyeongchang, set on the slopes of a valley north of Mount Bugak on the southern fringe of the Mount Bukhan Nationwide Park.
The furthest of the three districts from downtown, Pyeongchang, has the smallest variety of ambassadorial residences and associated police containers, so it’s thought-about least safe. Its feng shui can also be thought-about overly highly effective, Jang Track-hyon, a long-term Seongbuk resident and enterprise advisor instructed Asia Instances.
Although not particularly recognized within the movie, Pyeongchang is extensively seen because the wealthy household’s neighborhood in Parasite. Nonetheless, Asia Instances has realized that some exterior scenes had been shot in Seongbuk.
“Gangnam has no views, and may be very congested and really confined – not like right here,” mentioned Jang. “The one draw back right here is when it snows – it’s troublesome to drive.”
These three “prime 1%” neighborhoods all supply a definite sequence of impressions.
They boast only a few companies, bar a sprinkling of cafes and galleries. The plethora of eateries, watering holes, groceries, comfort shops, and so on, that dot “regular” Seoul districts are conspicuously absent.
There aren’t any high-rises, and all properties are steeped, granting each home down-valley views. Private gardens – uncommon elsewhere in Korea – are musts. Greenery is considerable.
There is no such thing as a dominant architectural fashion. Some homes resemble European mansions, others Alpine chalets. Some are neo-traditional Korean homes, others are bespoke constructions designed by star architects. And a handful are whimsical flights of fancy.
Most are split-level, with area for prolonged households, and/or quarters for live-in house assist – housekeepers, cooks, drivers, bodyguards. For linguistic causes, overseas residents are inclined to make use of Filipinos, however in Korean households, assistance is more likely to be Korean-Chinese language (who work cheaper than locals). As in Victorian England, many properties have separate residents’ entrances and servants’ entrances.
Some properties hire flooring out; costs are round $20,000 per 30 days, Jang mentioned.
As they’re split-level, ground areas are enormous: Between 200-400 pyong (660-1322 sq. meters) Jang estimated, quoting a Korean ground measurement. By comparability, most household flats in Seoul are 20-35 pyong.
Strikingly, nearly each house is walled. Some have comparatively modest, eyebrow-height brick partitions. Some have neo-traditional partitions, some have designed stone partitions. However many squat behind huge concrete ramparts, as much as 10 meters excessive – extra indicative of fortresses than domiciles.
“I don’t just like the excessive partitions, however I believe folks want safety,” mentioned Jang. “And so they don’t need others to see how they dwell.”
Namsan and Seongbuk abut poor neighborhood – and based on one supply, there are good the explanation why the wealthy are suspicious of the poor.
Talking on situation of anonymity in a downtown Starbucks final week, the supply instructed a story – and confirmed Asia Instances associated photographs, messages and paperwork – that bears robust resemblances to Bong’s masterpiece.
Artwork imitates life
“Ms. Kim” – not her actual identify – is a 60-something businesswoman and philanthropist married to a financier.
Kim was approached by a lady who pleaded poverty and begged to work for her. When the lady instructed her that her 14-year-old son was in a youth detention middle, Kim sympathized: She had a same-aged son. Kim supplied the lady work in her workplace.
The brand new worker did properly. Subsequently, she launched her husband. As in Parasite, Kim supplied him a place, too. The couple received Kim’s belief, and he or she granted them entry to her checking account and residential keys. The house housed Kim’s high-value assortment of recent artwork; she usually used it for features.
All continued amicably till Kim took a prolonged journey to New York.
Whereas abroad, a pal in Seoul urgently contacted Kim, drawing her consideration to a Fb message that appeared to point out Kim’s house. Alarmed, Kim logged on.
The submit was written by an investor who mentioned he had been invited to amass artworks in what he had been knowledgeable was a “gallery.” Additionally within the pictures appeared the couple – in spruced-up clothes – who labored for Kim.
Kim was gob-smacked. She realized she was the sufferer of two subtle con artists.
Dashing again to Seoul, she found the couple had printed paperwork wherein they recognized themselves as homeowners of Kim’s enterprise and belongings. That sparked a three-year authorized battle. Finally Kim, within the firm of bailiffs, forcibly entered the couple’s house to repossess belongings.
That they had fled.
Traumatized, Kim left Pyeongchang for a luxurious (and safe) downtown condominium. Subsequently, her son watched Parasite. He texted his mom, urging her to look at it instantly.
“After I noticed it, I used to be freaking out, I used to be considering, ‘That is my story!’” Kim mentioned. “I believe Mr. Bong tried to characterize them [the poor], not us [the rich], however he has very, very sharp eyes. It was very real looking.”
And there are different tales.
An interpreter recognized to Asia Instances labored for a European expatriate couple who rented a high-end Seoul house. The couple employed an area housekeeper and left her in control of the house once they returned to Europe for annual depart.
The couple was astonished, when viewing CCTV footage of their Seoul house, to see a celebration underway: The housekeeper had invited her circle of relatives and buddies to a backyard barbeque. Although nothing in the home was broken or stolen, the couple subsequently sacked her.
In keeping with stories, author/director Bong’s inspirations for Parasite had been his personal expertise as a tutor to a affluent household, and the 1960 Korean movie The Housemaid, a couple of predatory servant. And Asia Instances has no proof that Bong knew of Kim’s story – although components of it leaked to the press.
Nonetheless, tales of cons are frequent. Many, many South Koreans have skilled, or know folks, who had been duped by strangers, buddies and even relations. That is partly a results of a tradition whereby relationships and belief are prized over contracts and legalities.
“One of many themes of the movie is that wealthy persons are naïve and silly – and it’s true,” mentioned a Seongbuk resident, who confirmed Asia Instances round her house on situation of discretion. “Individuals right here give out financial institution accounts numbers and passwords and inform their subordinates, ‘Go and get some cash out of the financial institution.’”
“Till the early 1990s, folks would open financial institution accounts within the names of buddies, households and workers,” Mike Breen, writer of The New Koreans and a Pyeongchang resident, instructed Asia Instances. “And sure, typically, these folks did disappear with the cash.”
In an atmosphere wherein the regulation is underused, some say additionally it is weak. “The rationale we’ve so many scandals in Korea is as a result of legal guidelines aren’t enforceable,” mentioned Kim. “Many people get ripped off – these excessive partitions present how scared persons are.”
Relatedly – because the polarization in Bong’s movie makes clear – highly effective egalitarian sentiments run by way of South Korean society. In outdated Korea, the peasantry lived communal lives, empowering envy. The Seongbuk resident quoted an outdated proverb: “If my cousin buys a rice subject, I get a abdomen ache.”
Authorities are right this moment addressing the have-have not cut up Parasite highlights in various methods, from elevating the minimal wage and making an attempt to tamp down Seoul actual property costs, to taxing the elite.
“Final yr, property taxes had been raised 80-100% over the earlier yr,” mentioned Jang. “I protested on the tax workplace, however the younger girl there mentioned they are going to most likely go up once more subsequent yr.”