Parasite: The real people living in Seoul's basement apartments

Oh ke-cheol in bed surrounded by furniture in his tiny apartment in Seoul

A wonder field place of work hit telling the tale of a deficient South Korean circle of relatives residing in a tiny, darkish semi-basement, and a rich circle of relatives residing in a glamorous house in Seoul.

However whilst the Oscar-tipped movie Parasite is a piece of fiction, the condo isn’t. They are known as banjiha, and 1000’s of other people reside in them in South Korea’s capital, Seoul.

Julie Yoon, of BBC Korean, went to satisfy a few of them, to determine what existence is like there.

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There may be mainly no daylight in Oh ke-cheol’s banjiha.

It will get so little mild that even his little succulent plant could not live on.

Person looking through the window of Oh ke-cheol's apartment

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The road gives an immediate view into Oh ke-cheol’s condo

Other people can peer into his condo in the course of the home windows. Youngsters every now and then smoke out of doors his flat, or spit onto the bottom.

In the summertime, he suffers from insufferable humidity and battles with quickly increasing mildew.

The tiny rest room has no sink and is raised part a metre above the ground. The ceiling of the toilet is so low he has to face together with his legs broad, to keep away from banging his head.

“Once I first moved in, I were given bruises from banging my shin at the step and scrapes from stretching my fingers towards the concrete partitions,” says Oh, 31, who works within the logistics business.

Oh ke-cheol in his bathroom with a raised floor

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Oh ke-cheol can not stand totally upright in his rest room on account of the raised ground

However now he says he is used to it.

“I do know the place the entire bumps and lighting are.”

Parasite, the stealth hit by means of mythical director Bong Joon-ho, is a twisted story of the haves and have-nots.

The extraordinary disparity between the 2 households – the prosperous Parks and the deficient Kims – is proven via their two houses. One a gleaming mansion up at the hills above Seoul; the opposite a dingy semi-basement.

In real-life Seoul, even though, banjihas are the place 1000’s of younger other people finally end up residing, whilst they paintings arduous and hope for a greater long term.

Composite of the Kim family in their bathroom in Parasite, and Oh ke-cheol in his apartmentSymbol copyright

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The Kims’ rest room in Parasite (left) is a correct illustration of the way Oh lives (proper)

Film set of the Park's apartment in ParasiteSymbol copyright

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The Parks’ house within the movie is by contrast shiny, spacious and opulent

The banjihas don’t seem to be only a quirk of Seoul structure, however a made from historical past. Those tiny areas in reality hint their roots again many years, to the struggle between North and South Korea.

In 1968, North Korean commandos slipped into Seoul on a challenge to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee.


The raid was once thwarted, however the stress between the 2 Koreas intensified. That very same 12 months, North Korea additionally attacked and captured a US Army undercover agent send, the usPueblo.

Armed North Korean brokers infiltrated South Korea, and there have been various terrorist incidents.

Fearing an escalation, in 1970 the South Korean executive up to date its construction codes, requiring all newly constructed low-rise condo constructions to have basements to function bunkers in case of a countrywide emergency.

To start with, renting out such banjiha areas was once unlawful. However all the way through the housing disaster within the 1980s, with area working quick within the capital, the federal government was once pressured to legalise those underground areas to reside in.

The streets around Oh ke-cheol's home in Seoul

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In crowded Seoul, area is at a top rate and rents are excessive

In 2018, the UN famous that regardless of having the sector’s 11th biggest economic system, South Korea’s loss of reasonably priced housing was once a considerable barrier – in particular for younger other people and poorer other people.

For less than-35s, the rent-to-income ratio has remained at round 50% all the way through the decade.

So the semi-basement flats have turn out to be an reasonably priced reaction to rapidly-growing housing costs. Per 30 days rents are round 540,000 Korean received (£345; $453), with moderate per thirty days salaries for other people within the 20s round 2m received (£1,279; $1,679).

Nonetheless, some banjiha dwellers fight to conquer the social stigma. However now not all.

Oh ke-cheol sits at his computer with his cat

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Oh ke-cheol says he has grown to love his semi-underground house

“You recognize, I am surely OK with my condo,” says Oh.

“I selected this position to save cash and I am saving so much from it. However I have spotted I will’t forestall other people pitying me.

“In Korea, other people assume you need to personal a pleasant automotive or a space. I believe banjiha symbolises poverty.

“Most likely that is why the place I reside defines who I’m.”

Halfway via Parasite, because the deficient Kim circle of relatives infiltrate the lives of the Parks to take a look at to earn a living off them, the youngest Park, Da-song notices a odor a number of the Kim circle of relatives.

When Kim Ki-taek, the daddy, tries to eliminate the odor, his daughter says coldly: “It is the basement odor. The odor would possibly not move away until we depart this position.”

Shim Min and Park Young-jun in their apartment

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Park Younger-jun (proper) was once interested in the gap and coffee hire of the banjiha

Park Younger-jun, a 26-year-old photographer, watched Parasite quickly after he moved into his banjiha condo. To start with, Park’s explanation why for opting for a banjiha was once easy: affordability and area.

Alternatively, he could not assist however really feel aware of the odor after staring at the film. “I did not need to odor just like the Kim circle of relatives,” he says.

That summer season, he burnt numerous incense sticks and saved his dehumidifier on more often than not. In many ways, he says the movie motivated him to mend up his flat and embellish it.

“I did not need other people to really feel sorry for me simply because I reside rather underground,” he explains.

Park and his female friend, Shim Min, saved a vlog about their banjiha condo makeover.

They’re more than pleased with where, however it took months to get the place they’re now.


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Park Younger-jun and Shim Min have renovated the condo in combination

“When my folks noticed the condo for the primary time, they have been in dismay. The former tenant was once a heavy smoker and my mother could not recover from the odor,” says Park.

Shim, a 24-year-old YouTuber, first strongly disagreed with Park when he decided to reside in banjiha condo.

“I had an excessively damaging belief of banjiha. It did not glance secure. It jogged my memory of the darkish aspect of the town. I grew up in high-rise condo complexes all my existence, so I used to be frightened about my boyfriend.”

Shim Min and Park Young-jun in their apartment

However their house makeover movies have had sure comments from their subscribers. Some even envy how trendy their flat is.

“We like our house and are happy with the paintings we now have finished right here,” says Min. However she issues out that it doesn’t suggest that they need to settle in banjiha eternally. “We’re going to transfer up.”

Oh could also be saving up to shop for his personal position. By way of residing in semi-basement, he hopes to grasp his dream a lot quicker.

“My simplest feel sorry about is that my cat, April, can not benefit from the solar in the course of the window.”

Oh ke-cheol's cat

All pictures Julie Yoon

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