Even the most removed writers will find a way to inject themselves into their stories—and the same can be said for the man behind Parasite‘s true story inspiration. Director and screenwriter Bong Joon Ho is no stranger to the universe in which his Oscar-nominated 2019 film, Parasite, is set. While we certainly hope his own life hasn’t taken quite the same dark twist, it is clear that his experiences have served as the basis for some of its major plot points. So to all of those among you who wondered: Yes, Parasite is based on a true story. Sorta.
We can’t say it’s entirely inspired by one particular event, as far as Bong Joon Ho has confirmed it. What we can surmise is that the characters and families involved in Parasite take inspiration from similar faces Bong Joon Ho encountered when he was in his 20s. Back when the Korean director was a young man, he took on a job as a Math tutor for a wealthy family in Seoul—does that ring a bell? In Parasite, the young Kims begin working for the Parks, a similarly affluent family.
Clearly, Bong Joon Ho’s experiences working for the elite made him critically aware of class discrimination—a theme that is ever-present in his Golden Globe award-winning film. Desperate to make ends meet during his early adulthood, Bong Joon Ho was persuaded by his girlfriend at the time (who is now his wife) to tutor a wealthy family’s son in math. According to the director, this family lived in a lavish home in one of Seoul’s most exclusive areas. So he took up the offer; the only problem? He wasn’t very good at math himself!
“They wanted another tutor for math, so she put me forward as a trustworthy friend, even though I was actually really bad at math,” he confessed to The Hollywood Reporter. Much like the Kims, who had no experience with the jobs they took on. There’s a sense of fraud at play; yet in Bong Joon Ho’s case, it was far more innocent: He simply always dreamed of being a filmmaker, instead.
Yet it’s clear that Parasite also draws from this culture of “trust” over jobs. “It’s not as if they put out lots of ads looking for domestic help — you’re introduced.” In Parasite, for example, Ki-woo, introduces his sister Ki-jeong as his own cousin’s classmate, even as she pretends to be an art therapist. This “trust” comes at the expense of real truth, of course. And that’s where things get messy in Parasite.
Imaginably, this was not so much the case for Bong Joon Ho himself. He was fired after only two months of working with the student, but that’s because of how much the young boy enjoyed pulling him aside to talk about his private life. It was this relationship that allowed our director to reach his eureka moment, however—one that fueled his masterful film today. “When you’re working as a tutor or a housekeeper, you’re in the most private spaces, and both sides are brought together in such intimacy,” he said to The Hollywood Reporter.
“I didn’t have any bad intentions,” he promises, “but that was the inspiration for this film.”