‘Parasite’ house is a custom-built film set, designed by Bong Joon-Ho and Lee Ha-Jun

The architect is fictional. But the genius was real. The fictional Namgoong Hyeonja house is actually a custom-built film set. Designed to be flooded, controlled lighting, trap doors and features custom designed furniture.

That’s right. Namgoong Hyeonja, the architect mentioned in the film Parasite, is a fictional architect. He’s not real. However, the genius behind the house in the film was real. Bong Joon-Ho tapped his production designer Lee Ha-Jun, and their art department wizards to build a remarkable architectural vision. The Park house was constructed entirely on a film lot. Here’s some of the initial renderings and concept models:

Compare some of those concept renderings with some actual stills from the film:

Incredible attention to detail and commitment to getting the right shot. There are more photos and insights from Bong and Lee in the interview piece at IndieWire. Bong Joon Ho’s stories and films are heavily steeped in symbolism. They’re dense and delicious like a strong sun tea that’s been sitting outside for hours in the hot sun. They’re chock full of complex metaphors and reference cultural deep-cut films such as Akira Kurosawa’s, High and Low.

Bong’s intelligent cuts, tedious blocking, and deliberate recycling of shots are a delicious recipe for a fun film. Here’s some of his own words (from the IndieWire piece) on why they chose the structure of the house and the film:

Cinephiles may be reminded of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low.” In that case, the structure is simpler and stronger. The Japanese title is “Heaven and Hell.” On the top of the hill is a rich guy and in the bottom, there is the criminal kind of structure. It’s basically the same in “Parasite,” but with more layers.

Because the story is about the rich and poor, that’s obviously the approach we had to take in terms of designing the sound and lighting. The poorer you are, the less sunlight you have access to, and that’s just how it is in real life as well: You have a limited access to windows. For example, in “Snowpiercer,” the tail cars didn’t have any windows and with semi-basement homes, you have a very limited of sunlight you get during the day — maybe 15 or 30 minutes — and that’s where the film opens.

We actually used natural lighting for those scenes in “Parasite.” All of our sets, the rich house and the poor house, were built on outdoor lots.

Lee Ha-Jun, a seasoned production designer says the the living room should act as a stand-in for TV. I believe he means that literally for Mr. and Mrs. Park, initially. But, offering an appreciative and wide view of the garden, the large window becomes a living portal to the backyard green space. A gateway of vast symbolic significance within Bong’s plot. The window occupies an intentional 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which is culturally symbolic to film, but more importantly feels spacious on screen. It has its production merits too, inviting light and warmth during the day on set. Lee has a terse explanation, but it is pretty clear that almost everything on set was thoughtfully produced for the sake of blocking:

The front yard was a key reason why he had to build Mr. Park’s house. Director Bong already had the actors’ blocking in mind.

Even all of the furniture was custom-made for Bong’s film:

The semi-basement neighborhood was built to flood:

Photo: ⓒ 2019 CJ ENM Corporation, Barunson E&A All Rights Reserved.
A still from the film, using the same fabricated production set.

I wasn’t joking when I said it was full of metaphors. Here’s a few examples I fell in love with that caught my eyes. Ample repetition reinforces significance. As a resolution begins to unravel, the same shot cedes itself to darkness as something sinister emerges only moments later.

Reflections and oppositions are important. Light and warmth. Opaque and transparent. Cloudy and clear. Clean and dirty. Level and angled. Rich and poor. Survival and oppression. High and low.

What I find to be the most striking, is these temples of film production are all temporary. They’re built on film lots, hundreds of works laboring to build these realistic places, used for shots, deconstructed, and the cycle repeats for the next big movie. It’s like they’re emulating the Himalayan practice of creating Tibetan Sand Mandalas. For more photos and concept images from the film, check out Architectural Digest.

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