The Eye of the Fish

February 25, 2020


Walking into the Embassy, I didn’t know what to expect. It was opening night, before all the Oscars hype, but there was a buzz in the air – literally an audible hum. Clearly others had heard something, but if so, they were keeping schtumm – first night at the movies but packed to the rafters and in the Embassy that is quite something. Was it going to be a horror? A comedy? A drama? Definitely not a rom-com…

What followed was a dryly observed, sardonic depiction of the class struggle in South Korea, with excellent deadpan acting by a cast who reeked of talent (and at times, raw sewerage). I was entertained, titillated, bemused, delighted and unlike the Resident Rump, I knew exactly what that was all about. Gone with the Wind it was not – thank goodness too. The acting was excellent – the script was brilliant – direction superb – Oscars are well deserved. But predictably though, the real star was unheralded and unrewarded. The house itself.

I suspect that, like me, a few of the architects out there in the audience were sitting there thinking “I never heard about this architect in Arch School” and wondering whether the architect (Namgoong Hyeonja) was an associate of Mies, or if there was a little-known branch of Korean modernism that was flying under the radar. Superbly crafted Modernism, with beautiful timber surfaces, masterful walls of concrete, luxurious feel and warmth, along with a fine selection of preserved fruit and ram-don noodles. Is there a category for the set itself – could the house be a winner? It should! For those of you that have not seen the film, I’ll say no more, although I suspect that most of you already have seen it: if not, go see it now.

I was therefore amazed and bemused to discover the truth about the house – from this well-written source – and then also the inevitable check on Wikipedia here – but the attention to detail was huge – apparently even the proportion of the rooms was designed to fit in with the 2.35:1 aspect ratio to best suit the big screen (does that mean that they will have to redesign the house when it is released for TV ?). There’s more detail in an Indiewire article over here. Nonetheless, despite the fact that this is a set-designer’s interpretation of a fictional architect, there are some great lessons to be learned here, in terms of layering of space and presentation of the journeys through the house. Stairs, processions, open plan living vs basement storage. Its a masterpiece of course, with luxury in every frame, well, every frame in that particular house, not the other one… Set designer HJ Lee says: “I’m not an architect, and I think there’s a difference in how an architect envisions a space and how a production designer does. We prioritize blocking and camera angles while architects build spaces for people to actually live in and thus design around people. So I think the approach is very different.” (IndieWire).

Not everyone is happy, of course: “Residents living in Parasite’s filming locations have reportedly complained of a sense of embarrassment and discomfort due to an increase in tourists visiting their neighborhoods and taking photos of their surroundings, making them feel like “monkeys in a zoo”.” says Wikipedia. Even that neighbourhood was a set, so that it could be flooded, but apparently that is a reality and the set was not unlike true to life student housing (both in Korea and here as well!).

The toilet scene reminded me of the descent into drug-addled shitty lifestyle enjoyed by Renton in Trainspotting – yes, you know what I’m talking about… which had the audience shrieking in horror each time the toilet bubbled. Oh such fun… Well done Bong Joon Ho !

Seamonkey Madness
25 - 02 - 20

“…basement storage.” LOL. :D

Such a well-built up story. Layer upon layer, until the whole thing collapses in a glorious, dramatic heap.

Also, loved the distributor’s response to Trump’s comment.

25 - 02 - 20

When I went to see it, someone sniffily remarked that it was just a classic film-student’s work, with rehashed elements of Kurokawa and Kubric. I’m not actually sure what she was talking about – do you know what films she may have been referring to?

stuart gardyne
25 - 02 - 20

Alan, Starkive would be better placed than I to attempt to interpret why the ‘someone’ considered it a rehash of Akira Kurosawa (I assume they meant Kurosawa the film director and not Kurokawa the architect).

Kisho Kurokawa the architect is perhaps best known for the Capsule Tower in Tokyo.

Akira Kurosawa the film directors known for Seven Samarai 1954 and Yojimbo 1961 that was copied scene for scene apparently in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars.

I have yet to see Parasite but suspect it being a rehash of a Kurosawa movie is either ignorance or else knowledge of a very obscure movie of his.

The influence of Stanley Kubric is also a mystery. Spartacus perhaps!

26 - 02 - 20

I’d love for you to go see the film, if only to look at the architecture ! In fact – an architecture + office outing ! I’m sure the staff would lap it up. Let us know if you think the architecture reminds you of anyone in particular. I’m thinking that it’s more a high end Knoll fitout rather than a typical mid-century modern. A Julius Schumann perhaps rather than a Schindler. Hmmmm. Have I got that name right? Am I thinking of Neutra when I say Schindler? I think I need to go back to my books for a bit and do some research. M-d where are you? Stark I’ve ? Need some help here!

26 - 02 - 20

Haven’t seen Parasite yet – things can take a while up here. I did see Schindler’s List… or was that Schindlers’ Lift?

It doesn’t sound much like any Kurosawa or Kubrick movie I can think of. Does any of the characters swing a sword (or an axe)? Kurosawa gets copied a lot – sometimes with acknowledgement, sometimes not. Wikipedia lists over 20 remakes of his films, mainly by western directors including Sidney Lumet, George Lucas, Walter Hill and Sergio Leone. It is possible that Bong Joon-ho has found a way to get himself on that list, but at the Oscars he seemed very up front about his influences and Akira didn’t get a mention.

Seamonkey Madness
27 - 02 - 20

Are you sure you haven’t seen it Starkive? :D
Levi will know what I mean.

27 - 02 - 20

Ah yes… I do indeed know what you are saying. But I’m at peace with the world. I’ve buried the hatchet, so to speak…. Besides, I like birthday cake. Nuf said.

Nicholas Cooper
16 - 03 - 20

Pardon me for offering this late opinion on Parasite, which i only saw after the Oscars (a black and white show at Light Cuba). For me it offered interesting takes on our our global environmental and social conditions – Gig economy, stink bugs, climate Armageddon via rainfall an d flooding, and Wellington’s own bete noire, failing 3 waters infrastructure. i too really enjoyed the city urbanscape potrayred and the lack of CPTED…

17 - 03 - 20

I’m glad you saw it Nicholas – seems an appropriate film to be seeing in these “difficult times”. Civilisation’s thin veneer of civility is fast falling away as brain-dead zombie shoppers frantically rush the shelves to stock up on bog roll, and airlines fall from the sky to crash and burn amongst their imploding profit margins. Failing 3 waters infrastructure is right!