Following his groundbreaking victory at the Oscars this year, Bong Joon-ho, the director of the first non-English Best Picture winner “Parasite”, announced his plan to release a limited series based on the original film. As I silently shook my head in resignation, I was curious as to why the celebrated director gave this project the green light, and what this unreleased series would mean to his masterpiece.
Director Bong has already clarified that this series will not be an American remake of his original work. The undecided HBO adaptation would be an expansion of the “Parasite” world, where Bong would like to reveal hidden stories about the characters and unseen events. As he shared with The Wrap, “I just couldn’t include all those ideas in the two-hour running time of the film, so they’re all stored in my iPad and my goal with this limited series is to create a six-hour-long film.” His clarification put me slightly at ease with the whole concept. After all, the film is full of mysteriously obscure metaphors and Easter eggs just waiting to be uncovered. One scene that Bong hinted at is how the housekeeper, Mun Gwang (Lee Jung Eun), comes back during the fateful night with a bruised face. The director mentions details that the majority of the audience (including myself) had previously overlooked. Details to which he has already crafted stories to address them. He asks “why does she know the existence of this bunker?” and “what relationship does she have with that architect to know of this bunker?” One could say Bong is the embodiment of the bunker: the mastermind has all the answers but everything remains a secret which we may or may never figure out.
The “Parasite” director is no stranger to English-speaking films, as he entered the Hollywood scene with his debut Snowpiercer (2013) and the Netflix Original Okja (2017), both receiving critical acclaim. The “Parasite” American TV series would not be the first Korean film/series to receive the Hollywood treatment. Park Chan-wook’s infamous film Oldboy (2003) was re-adapted in 2013 and received lukewarm reviews. On the other hand, the American version of the Korean TV series Good Doctor starring Freddie Highmore was positively received by both critics and the public audience. Although the idea behind this ambitious television series is nothing new, I was not satisfied with the given justification. I persisted, looking for an answer.
Even though I know this series would not be terrible (fingers crossed!) with Bong’s direction, I still do not understand the need to expand the original film. One of the greatest charms of “Parasite” is the mystery and minute elements that keep us on the edge of our chairs. Revealing these intricate details, while it can be eye-opening and equally impactful, might actually destroy the intriguing and suspenseful essence the original film has established. We, as viewers, see “Parasite” and the world it belongs to as it is portrayed, we accept the movie with its secret and unfilled “holes”. More knowledge does not always equate to more appreciation (sometimes even resulting in less).
Another point about this project that rubs me the wrong way is that the series is rumored to be in English. Moreover, high-profile actors Tilda Swinton and Mark Ruffalo have been speculated of joining this anticipated limited series, which leads me to my biggest bewilderment: Does it really have to be a white family in a western setting? The rumored actors are brilliant but are they what “Parasite” fans are looking for? In my opinion, the reason why “Parasite” is so impactful, haunting and realistic is the way Bong Joon-ho deconstructs and reconstructs the Korean society and social classes. It’s a movie made by a Korean director with Korean characters, acted by Korean actors in Korea. The film is quintessentially Korean. Taking “Parasite” out of its context essentially disintegrates its meaning and uniqueness. Although Bong’s general idea about social classes might evoke universal sympathy, his incredibly specific depiction of the modern Korean society brings the film to life under his microscope.
Although Hollywood producers are reeling in this special project, the film’s loyal fans are not necessarily supportive of Bong’s decision. As a fan, I am aware that the film is currently in its prime and already attracting a lot of attention to where the story can potentially progress to. Director Bong has never let cinema fans down with his artistry and expertise, and every single film of his is has been delivered with quality and provocation. Therefore, I am not losing hope in how he can reintroduce the film from an unseen and unexpected point of view. However, if the series is executed sloppily (which I am sure it won’t be), it can erode the reputation the film has tried so hard to build. Even if the TV series delivers the quality of similar magnitude, will it measure up to our expectations or become a total disappointment? As of now, the final details are not confirmed, but my bets are still on Bong Joon-ho. Nonetheless, I wholeheartedly hope that the awards “Parasite” has received will not affect this terrific filmmaker’s mentality. Also, to Hollywood investors who are seeing this film as their new “money-maker”: “Parasite” is an art masterpiece that deserves preservation, respect, and appreciation. It has never and will never be your “cash cow.”