Parasite (2019), written by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, racked up the awards in 2019/2020. It’s an epic movie and a great screenplay. Let’s analyze the latter.
- Draft Read: Undated
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 143
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Seoul, South Korea
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple months
- Genre(s): Thriller
- Theme(s): Socioeconomic inequality, Love, Respect, Poverty, Confidence
- Protagonist Change: Minimal
Parasite is awesome. It’s not a particularly unique script, is relatively formulaic, and explores themes from well-traveled (perhaps even cliche) angles, but it’s done in such a fantastic way that it overcomes just about all of its limitations.
Part of the story’s appeal may be that it highlights universal human problems from another culture’s point of view. In other words, most Westerners are unfamiliar with life in South Korea; a film that touches on themes that are prevalent in the West (poverty, rich vs. poor) from the perspective of South Koreans is going to be relatable.
The story is just okay… until Kun-Sea (later changed to Oh Geun-sae) is discovered living in the Park’s basement. It’s unsettling, creepy and changes the story from one exploring surface-level deception and fraud to themes like poverty and desperation and taps into our own moralities.
Every character is flawed. The Kim family are frauds. The Park family are dicks. The housekeeper and her husband are intruders. And we, as the reader, generally feel for the Kims as we were introduced to them first, even though they aren’t all that likeable.
The film is a thriller and there are many edge-of-the-seat moments (ex. when the Kim’s are trying to sneak out from under the coffee table). There are no guns, no epic special effects, just writers who know how to manipulate emotions such as fear (see Correctly Using Emotions and Feelings in Screenwriting).
The character arcs are a bit tricky to decipher. One example is Ki-Tek (the Kim family dad), who teeters between confident and cowardly but is always somewhat playful. For example, on Page 70:
Chung-Sook is absolutely still. She glowers at Ki-Tek, who unlike before doesn’t back down. He stares right back, tension growing, when–
His face starts cracking. He begins to snicker.
Chung-Sook does too . They both burst into laughter.
I got you! I totally got you!
Another example is toward the end of the script when it appears that Ki-Tek is going to stand up to Dong-Ik, but instead motions toward a misplaced feather in his cap. It seems that Ki-Tek’s careful sarcasm has given him the last laugh until… Ki-Tek ultimately does stand up to Dong-Ik, but killing him goes from 0 to 100, and seems greatly out of the modest character. Is this a ‘script neutral’? Well, it feels like it, but some may find the characters like Ki-Tek relatable and easy to understand. I didn’t.
Some scenes simply go too far in an attempt to illustrate the point. For example, here’s two action lines from Page 117:
Chung-Sook nods and proceeds quietly. It’s hard to set up the bulky tables without making noise.
Dong-Ik scratches his belly as he returns to the house.
The Parks are out-of-touch spoiled rich folks. We got that 50 pages ago. There are a few too many of these points and sometimes scenes thrown in to remind us what we already know. As is well-known, the audience hates their intelligence being questioned.
The plot is of course brilliant and I more or less explained what it was about above. But the brilliance is not in the story. There are countless stories that center around an intruder in one’s home. The plot’s magic is the pacing in which the important aspects are revealed to us, thereby giving us new perspectives in which to judge the characters’ actions. A script that kind-of sort-of has similar slow reveals is Get Out (2017). But Parasite’s better. Far better. Why? Because unlike Get Out, the characters are deeper and there’s no crystal-clear right and wrong.
The character’s were all well-developed. Most of them get ample screentime too. There probably were some missed oppurtunies to improve the inter-character dynamics between Mun-Kwang (and her husband) and the Kims. The whole cell phone recording of the Kim’s felt a little unrealistic (I don’t know any 50ish year olds who would have the wherewithal to take and then use a video recording as ransom) and out of place. Sure, it kept the plot moving forward. Regardless, the use of tech in the script is an analysis for another time.
Dialogue & Pacing
The dialogue is roughly 95% Korean and 5% English. I read an English version of the script. Therefore, commenting on the subtleties of the dialogue isn’t logical.
With that said, the dialogue wasn’t deep. Much of the exposition was simply stated directly via dialogue. For example, Page 117:
If you plan, something will always go wrong. That’s life.
That’s why you should never plan. If you don’t have a plan, you can’t fail.
Of course, there was a strong emphasis on messages learned through what wasn’t said. For example, the Parks routinely turned their nose up at the smell of the Kims. But even so, we did learn the Park’s reason for doing this through dialogue between themselves.
No additional notes on pacing.
Parasite’s main purpose is to critique society in South Korea, which has more or less the same issues we face here in the U.S. Its success proves that many people found it relatable. Does that mean that people took the message to heart? I doubt it. Of course, the film didn’t really provide any solutions to our problems, nor did it portray any of the people in a positive light.
A film worth comparing it to is Triangles of Sadness (2022), which like Parasite is a relatively dark story and also paints modern society in a pretty negative way.
Best Part of The Script
The best scene in the film is the one with the ghost. Of course, the scene is brilliant. Far scarier than any horror film I’ve seen in recent memory. The director, cinematographer, set designer and makeup artists deserve full respect there. The scene is more or less shot in the way it’s written in the script. Start on Page 95.