Parasite is in many ways familiar territory for Song Kang-ho. The film marks the South Korean film legend’s fourth genre-bending collaboration – following Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), and Snowpiercer (2013) – with auteur filmmaker and longtime friend, Bong Joon-ho. And while all of their previous collaborations have garnered critical praise, Parasite took things to a whole new level.
The film won the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Since then, Parasite became a bona-fide box office hit, a critical and audience favorite, and a darling of the 2019 awards season. It will likely become the first-ever South Korean film nominated for the Best International Feature Film Academy Award. Both Bong Joon-ho and Song Kang-ho could see a slew of career-first nominations coming their way. And deservedly so.
Parasite follows the working-class Kim family as they entwine themselves further and further into the lives of the effortlessly rich and glamorous Park family. What follows is a story of determination, desire, and class dynamics in this stunning social thriller. Song Kang-ho plays Ki-taek, the patriarch of the Kim family, and his quiet, stoic character serves an anchor throughout the film. I spoke to Song Kang-ho about Parasite’s universal appeal, his relationship with director Bong, and much, much more.
Read our full conversation with Song Kang-ho below.
Please note that this interview includes discussion of some plot points and spoilers. We don’t want to ruin any of Parasite’s many twists and turns, so proceed with caution. And go see Parasite (if you haven’t already)!
Awards Daily: You’ve had an almost 20-year working relationship with director Bong Joon-ho. How has he changed as a director?
Song Kang-ho: I’ve been working with director Bong for the last 20 years and I would say, throughout the last 20 years of our creative partnership, the only thing that has changed is his weight. (Laughs).
AD: How has your working relationship changed over the years?
SKH: From 20 years ago and even now, I’m always inspired by how [director Bong] keeps coming up with refreshing and creative work. And as a fan myself, I’m always excited to see his brand new films.
AD: What was your reaction when seeing the script for Parasite the first time?
SKH: When I read the script for the first time, I felt like director Bong has reached his peak. He has evolved. Even though you might say this is a very simple story, in the story itself, there are lots of messages and layers.
AD: What is it like seeing this story about a Korean family become such an international phenomenon?
SKH: As an actor myself, I’m truly honored to see how [Parasite] is well received. Not only in the States, but also in Europe and globally. As you mentioned, it’s very Korean thematically, and even the expressions used are very Korean. It’s surprising to see how well received it is all over the world. I think it’s a testament to director Bong and how great he is as a director. I’m very excited to see how the world is finally honoring director Bong and giving him the respect that he deserves.
AD: Obviously, at Awards Daily, we cover awards and awards season. What is it like receiving this level of awards buzz for the first time in your career and being at the center of a campaign?
SKH: Regardless of whether we receive the awards or not, I’m very honored to just be in the discussion. And Korean fans, especially myself, are very excited about this opportunity, especially for director Bong.
AD: Watching the film, there were several moments where it hit me that I was watching something truly special. Did you have any moments like that?
SKH: We really had a tough time shooting it. We really went through a hard period of production so that’s when I realized this was going to be special. (Laughs).
AD: In what way was it challenging? Physically? Emotionally?
SKH: Both. It was both very physically and emotionally demanding.
AD: Your character (and the film as a whole) is a very slow burn. You start off very reserved and then your character has this big explosive moment at the climax of the film. As an actor, how did you prepare for that thematic transition?
SKH: Yes. It wasn’t only my role, but overall, our entire ensemble. We were very aware of the rhythm of the film itself. We were very aware that it was going to be a slow burn at the beginning, and there would be this ‘explosion’ at the end. We were very aware of this particular rhythm as we prepared for and performed in [the film].
AD: In many ways, this is a dual role. We see your character at home with his family and also as a driver in this wealthy environment. Did you change your physicality or your demeanor based on where your character was in the story?
SKH: Not only for Parasite, but when I’m working on other projects as well. I don’t think I can actually separate the roles per say. But I try to approach it, depending on the circumstance, by understanding where the character is in his emotional arc and how the screenplay is playing out. So as I follow the emotional arc of the character, my demeanor naturally adapts.
AD: As you said, Parasite is very Korean thematically. And you play such an emotional character. How did this role affect you emotionally? Did it cause you to reflect on your own life and childhood in Korea?
SKH: (Laughs). I wasn’t approaching the character based on my own personal experience. I wouldn’t say Ki-taek is extraordinary in any particular sense. Even though he’s very Korean, everybody all over the globe can relate to the character. I think he’s somebody’s next-door neighbor. He was a really hard-working guy and his circumstances and his predicament didn’t play out the way he had planned. Because of that ordinary everyday appeal, people have been responding well to the character.
AD: How did you interpret the ending? Is it a dream? What do you think happens to your character at the end of Parasite?
SKH: Let’s say it’s a dream, but of a reality that cannot be achieved. So because of that, it’s even more sad. It’s heartbreaking.
AD: As you mentioned earlier, Parasite has many messages. Which one resonated with you the most? How did you interpret the movie?
SKH: In life there are no resolutions. Life goes on, it’s a continuation. And each person needs to create and cultivate his or her own life. That was my takeaway from the movie.
AD: Has Parasite changed your outlook on life or impacted the way you interact in the world in any way? It has for me.
SKH: Not only for me personally, but as an actor, I think it would be a disservice to the audience if I perform something that doesn’t feel true to me. As I approach any film, I try to act authentically and be genuine. I don’t go about it in any way that would be false to my emotions. That’s sort of a present I can offer to the audience as I go about my performance truthfully.
AD: A decade from now, what do you want the legacy of Parasite to be? What do you want audiences to remember?
SKH: To be honest, even 10 years from now, I don’t think society is going to be drastically different. So I think this movie poses a very sharp question that will still continue 10 years from now. I guess that’s the beauty of it. [Parasite] will still impact and raise questions about certain things going on in our society.
AD: Is there anything else you wanted to mention before I let you go?
SKH: Not speaking as an actor, but just as an ordinary person, I am very surprised and very excited to see how Parasite has been well received in the States. I hope it speaks to the audience as a piece that offers diversity in our culture. And shows a complete picture of how diverse we can be.
AD: It’s been a pleasure to speak to you! We love you very much here at Awards Daily. Thank you so much for your time.