A Masterpiece Told Through Architecture

As cinemaphiles await on the edge of their seat to see if “Parasite”—South Korea's first Oscar-nominated film—also becomes the Academy’s first non-English language film to win best picture this Sunday, a couple of the hit’s major characters are also in the limelight: the homes.

There is the impressive, modernist manse atop a verdant hill belonging to the wealthy Parks. “A minimalist space makes you feel that all you see is all there is,” director Bong Joon-ho has said. “To see that, you get the sense that it's not trying to hide anything beneath the complicated layers.” Of course, not all is how it seems in this comedic-thriller, be it the palatial Park home or the slummy, sub-basement of the impoverished Kims.

The homes of these South Korean families, whose symbiotic relationship drives the brilliantly told story, not only underscores the class-commentary, but adds to the layering and twists of the stunning, inventive plot, co-written by Han Jin-won and Bong Joon-ho.

“As a filmmaker, I'm always interested in space. I'm very obsessed with space,” said Joon, who based the story on his own experience as a poor math tutor for an affluent family in Seoul. “And when I find a good space, I become almost pathologically excited and euphoric.”

But “finding” such spaces was a matter of invention, and production designer Le Ha Jun conjured them to extraordinary effect—and his own Oscar nom nod. Along with best picture and production design, the 6 nods also include best director, foreign-language film, original screenplay, editing and production design.

The story makes much of the home being built by and lived in by starchitect Namgoong—a fabrication, too. “We had to consider the cinematic factors but also had to create a house so real that the audience could accept the idea the characters were actually living in it,” Lee has said, noting he had to think less like a production designer and more like an architect. On that note, the director and production team interviewed architects and even explored Los Angeles’ modernist homes, including a Frank Lloyd Wright house.

Find out which one, as well as more about Bong and his crew’s focus on architecture on DnA, the must-listen-to podcast by A+R pal and LA voice on all things design and architecture, Frances Anderton.