by Zach Cogan, Meagan Johnson, Dylan Kanaan, Gabriela Horwath, and Alan Countess
Position of the Houses: How it Reflects a Class Struggle
The Kim house is below ground in a busy and cluttered area of poor families with people disrespecting their home (including a couple of drunk men peeing on the property). Their house itself has very poor lighting and really the only pieces of technology are outdated, insufficient for their daily lives, and are in very bad shape. Their house has a very unorthodox structure to it, yet it can also be said that the Kims are very good at using what they have in order to make it work, regardless of the clutter that it creates in their home (E.g. socks drying on a ceiling fan and trying to latch onto any wifi possible). They have supplies for work (pizza boxes) stacked everywhere and store clutter in every room. Even the toilet is in a strange place, sitting on top of a ledge. There appears to be no beds in the home. In the opening scenes of the film, we see the patriarch of the Kim family resting his eyes and lying in a fetal position atop a thin rug. This layout shows how they manage to scrape by using what they have in the most efficient way possible. The family has this massive window that they have to look up to see out of. This could be a metaphor for the family wanting to climb up the socioeconomic ladder and take on a world that they don’t feel is theirs. On the outside of the window, it looks almost as if it is barred. This again shows how they are locked away from the rest of the world, unable to succeed and advance up the socioeconomic ladder.
The Park house is everything that the Kim house isn’t. The Park house has a beautiful garden on its entrance and as the audience gets the initial shot of the property, it is obvious, even before it is mentioned, that the house itself is a work of art. The Park house is secluded on top of a massive hill, which saves it from being destroyed during the rain (the downfall of the Kim house because they are at the bottom where all the water heads). Instead of the clutter featured in the Kim house, their house is simple, clean, and modern. The house is both home-y and intimidating, but most importantly is an object of idealism. It is symbolic of success and excess, the antithesis of what is to come towards the end of the film. Unlike the Kim family who needs to make use of everything they have, the Park family has the space and luxury to keep their house clear of clutter. The family has many unneeded pieces of technology featured in their house including a television in the bathroom and a borderline iPad in the wall. Another big difference is that there is this massive window (as if it is a movie screen and the family is watching a movie out of it) that the family uses to look out into a beautiful array of trees and grass. A key difference here is that the family is looking out onto their property on equal ground, which could be a metaphor of that they are complacent on where they are in society on a socioeconomic level with the land that they own. Although the Park house and the Kim house are both isolated in a sense, the manner of isolation casts a very different light on their relation to society. The Kim house was pushed underground and seemed to trap the family, preventing them from reaching beyond their squalor. The Park house, on the other hand, uses beauty to isolate itself. They have created their own barrier to shield themselves from the unpleasantness of the lower classes in society.
Stairs: A Motif for a Socioeconomic Climb
There is an emphasis on stairs in both the Kim and Park residences, a metaphorical device of climbing to wealth and significance. The set of stairs leading down to the Kim residence creates an effect of being subservient to the outside world, of being below even the drunken man who urinates on the street. The steps used to reach the toilet are filthy, yet it functions as the passageway to the tiny window (again, an entrance to the more ordered outside world). It forces the Kim family to constantly consider their place in society and to become parasitic beings. In the Park residence, stairs are a common motif of the home’s elaborate architecture. They even seem to function as a mode of communication between the Parks, Kims, and Moon-gwang and husband. Between the delicately placed champagne flutes and decorative fine china, something a lot less sophisticated is found deep in the basement. Even when the Kim’s son seizes in horror to the sight of Oh Geun-sae peering from the base of the stairs, the audience seems a glimpse of the calamity that will ensue when social classes intersect.
Intentions/Objectives: Decisions Made by the Production Design Team
It’s interesting to note that both houses were built from “scratch” by production designer Lee Ha Jun. For the Kim’s house, the set designers and production staff travelled to basement neighborhoods and used silicon modeling to replicate the environment, such as power lines and bricks. Jun says, “Nonetheless, we wanted to avoid having it [the houses] look like a set. We thought of the space as another actor. I told the art and set department that instead of trying to build Kitaek’s semi-basement neighborhood, we should just bring it over”. Jun also mentioned that once they started actually creating the Kim home, some of their dimensions – for doorways for example – were ‘off’, and so they had to makeshift props to retroactively fit the space. He mentioned that this ended up being a positive as many of these lower socioeconomic neighborhoods undergo the same process… that is, many years of iterative “fixes” to broken walls, doors, appliances, etc. He also mentioned that the small bathroom was modeled off his own experiences in college of having a moldy/overcrowded one.
While in the film it is mentioned that the Park family’s house was built by a famous architect, that is of course not the actual case. Jun states that while they wanted to build a house with custom furniture that made you feel like it was not only a real one, but also belonged to a wealthy family, he more importantly clarified that his number one priority was to create the home keeping in mind spatial relationships and camera angles they’d need that would be conducive to the plot – such as characters watching each other – as well as “blocking” (which the third group may speak more about). Aside from that, to accomplish the realness effect (that of an affluent family’s home), Jun actually included real art works such as the image of a forest made by Korean artist Seung-mo Park (see below). Jun says that this artwork was intended to serve as a status symbol.
The Park families wealth is also demonstrated towards the beginning of the movie when the house is first being shown to Kevin. The mother of the Park family stops to show Kevin the family’s photos that have been hung on a wall of the house. The photos consist of some family portraits as well as wedding photos and impressive accomplishments that the father of the Park family has achieved. This pocket of photos displays the Park family’s wealth by showing that they are able to fund these photos and most likely have hired professional photographers to take them. The photos also show the career accomplishments of the father of the Park family that alludes to his major company that has become successful, as shown in the magazine cover that has been framed on the wall. In addition, in the photos the family is all matching wearing fancy clothes. This is especially prominent in the wedding photo, as the mother of the Park family is wearing a beautiful wedding gown with a long train. Wedding gowns to begin with are already very expensive, but the glamour of the mother’s wedding gown shows that it would not be something that many families would be able to afford.