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By Daniel Lee · March 16, 2020
Welcome to the Screenwriting Secrets series, a collaboration between The Script Lab and Script Sleuth. Today we take a look at six brilliant screenwriting secrets in Parasite, winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and winner of Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.
SPOILER ALERT: Major plot points are discussed in this article. We highly suggest you see the film prior to reading this blog post.
In good screenwriting, the location serves the story and amplifies the theme. It should help create the maximum emotional impact for a scene. It’s especially the case in the screenplay for Parasite, in which negative events occur as characters physically descend to a lower level.
Here are some examples:
NOTE: There’s a noticeable exception to this when it comes to Ki-Taek and Mrs. Park. When he lies to her about accidentally seeing Moon-Gwang in the hospital, they’re actually going up a moving walkway. Later, when Mrs. Park schemes with him to fire Moon-Gwang, she tells Ki-Taek to come up to the second floor.
Not sure what Bong Joon-ho was trying to get at here. I’d love to hear your take on this. Leave a comment below!
Now let’s look at how positive events occur as characters go upwards:
Don’t forget: the locations are just as important as the characters. Use them wisely to augment your story.
In Parasite, several characters have fatal flaws, in that they believe in things that aren’t true. And these beliefs only get them in more trouble.
For example, to Ki-Taek, the father of the Kim family, having a plan is more important than doing legitimate, hard work. This negatively affects his family and gets them in deeper trouble as they always turn to him for a plan. Ki-Taek then comes to a revelation before the third act, when he realizes that having a plan only leads to disappointment, as life doesn’t follow your plans. So it’s especially absurd when Ki-Woo says this, “Father, I have a plan. I’m going to make a lot of money.”
Speaking of Ki-Woo, he seems to believe that there’s some special meaning in everything he sees: the landscape rock, Da-Song’s self portrait, and being in the drivers’ cafeteria as they scheme to have their father become the new driver.
Mrs. Park also has her own belief that gets her in deeper trouble: she can only trust someone recommended by a person she knows well.
So look at the chain of events this perpetuates: she automatically trusts Ki-Woo (recommended by his friend Min). Ki-Woo recommends Ki-Jung to be Da-Song’s art tutor. Ki-Jung recommends her father for the vacant driver position. Ki-Taek then gives them a fake business card for “The Care”, which lands Chung-Sook her job as the new housekeeper.
All of which comes tumbling down in the end. So when it comes to your characters, think of how their fatal flaws get them into deeper trouble.
It can be argued that the midpoint of a story is the most important plot point in a screenplay. The story completely changes as there is usually some sort of big revelation that the characters must now deal with in the second half of the story. In Parasite, the big midpoint occurs when the housekeeper, Moon-Gwang, returns.
The big reveal is that there’s a bunker under the house, and her husband has been living there for years. This may seem like a crazy plot development, but we didn’t arrive at this point haphazardly. Look at how expertly it’s been set up beforehand:
So if you have a big surprise in the midpoint of your story, be sure to set it up properly so that the audience will buy into it.
There’s a startling turn of events at the end of the film when Ki-Taek plunges a knife into Mr. Park’s chest. Up to that moment, Ki-Taek is shown as completely non-confrontational. So how did he get to such a drastic point?
From his source of pain: the shame of the way he smells. Look at how his smell has accumulated because of his economic status:
Now let’s see how the Park family brings this shame to light:
So remember: don’t forget about your characters’ source of pain to help explain their behaviors.
There’s an interesting thing that occurs with the characters in Parasite: characters from each family mirror each other. This blurs the line even further between protagonist and antagonist.
So notice how each daughter eventually erupts: Ki-Jung yells at her father to pay attention to her, not the Driver Yoon, and Da-Hye admonishes her mother for not asking her if she wanted chapa-guri noodles, when she asked Da-Song and even her father.
When you have a story with blurred lines between antagonists and protagonists, be sure to show their similarities as well as their differences.
Having seen all of Bong Joon-ho’s movies now, I think it’s safe to say that he enjoys foreshadowing in his films. Clever moments of foreshadowing will go undetected by the audience, but still give us subtle clues as to what’s coming up next. Let’s see what foreshadowing occurs in the screenplay for Parasite:
Foreshadowing is a great technique. Have fun with it in your screenplay.
As screenwriters, we can’t deny the truth anymore. When we have characters solving problems in modern-day stories, the audience will always ask this question: Why wouldn’t they just use their phone? So let’s look at how Parasite efficiently answers this question as the use of technology is seamlessly and realistically incorporated into the story:
So, as you can see, integrating smartphones into a modern story makes characters act in a more believable manner.
Want to learn More? You can download great Oscar-winning scripts for free from The Script Lab Screenplay Library!
Daniel Lee is the creator of Script Sleuth, a YouTube channel dedicated to helping screenwriters find screenwriting secrets in the greatest films of all time. He is also a screenwriter and filmmaker, and plays classical guitar.