'Parasite' comes to HBO: Will the Oscar favourite work as a television show?

We examine the backlash HBO has faced after announcing plans to adapt the Oscar-nominated South Korean film

This image released by Neon shows Woo-sik Choi, from left, Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang and So-dam Park in a scene from "Parasite." Nominations to the 92nd Academy Awards will be announced on Monday, Jan. 13. (Neon via AP)
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Last week's revelation that Parasite, Bong Joon-ho's satire on capitalism, will be turned into a limited series by HBO provoked fury among members of the film community. Ever since winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, movie aficionados have heaped so much praise and shed so much light on the South Korean film that they've helped it become both a box office phenomenon and a bona fide Oscar contender. The effect of their combined efforts has been so vast, their ownership of Parasite actually feels earned.

It's hardly surprising that they would feel such outrage over the proposed elongation of the impoverished Kim family's slow and calculated overhaul of the Park's wealthy home and staff. At the moment, we're still not sure whether the HBO version of Parasite will be some sort of sequel or a remake spread over several episodes. All that has been confirmed about the project is that Bong and Adam McKay, who directed Anchorman : The Legend of Ron Burgundy, The Big Short and the scathing Dick Cheney biopic Vice, will make the adaptation in English.

That decision is one of the main reasons why pretty much everyone who has seen Parasite is so incensed. It feels especially egregious because during Bong's acceptance speech after his film picked up the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Motion Picture this month, he said, with the help of his translator, that "once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films". 

But while there's no denying that Bong is right, with his entire oeuvre worthy of the recognition Parasite has received, we unfortunately live in a world where most western audiences overlook anything that's not in English. This shows no signs of changing any time soon, either. But if it makes it to air, HBO's take on Parasite will at least expose these viewers to the riveting and prescient social commentary that is at the heart of the original film.

Parasite's poetic, thought-­provoking and impactful look at the debilitating effect of capitalism on some sections of society has only helped to increase its popularity across the world, as the disparity between the wealthy and poor of many countries only seems to be getting bigger and bigger and bigger. In October, Bong told entertainment website Birth.Movies.Death that he quickly spotted how powerful the film was and how much it resonated with international audiences, despite both the language barrier and his belief that he had made a distinctly South Korean movie.

"I tried to express a sentiment specific to the Korean culture and I thought that it was full of Koreanness if seen from an outsider's perspective," Bong said. "But upon screening the film after completion, all the responses from different audiences were pretty much the same, which made me realise that the topic was universal. Essentially, we all live in the same country called Capitalism."

While this universality might have piqued Bong's interest in bringing Parasite to a new, potentially much larger, audience by adapting the story for a broadcaster such as HBO, the depth and malleability of the film's plot is surely what ultimately convinced him to do so.

As those who have seen Parasite will know, the dark and surprising twists and turns the story takes during its 132-­minute runtime are so thrilling that, if the HBO version proves to be a remake set in the US, then merely altering the story, the design of the house and the conflict and dynamic between the film's pitch-perfect characters to suit will undoubtedly open up a wealth of new ideas.

25th Critics Choice Awards – Show – Santa Monica, California, U.S., January 12, 2020 - Director Bong Joon-ho accepts the Best Director award for "Parasite". REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Director Bong Joon-ho accepts the Best Director award for 'Parasite'. Reuters

There will be so many, in fact, that if HBO's version is actually a follow-up of some sort, there will be dozens of additional avenues that could be explored during six or even eight hours of storytelling.

HBO's continuation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's seminal 1987 graphic novel Watchmen proves that building upon a beloved piece of intellectual property can be fully embraced, too. Plus, the addition of McKay, who has had great success with HBO as an executive producer on the broadcaster's series Succession, could prove a canny decision and make sure the adaptation of Parasite goes as smoothly as possible. 

But it is the involvement of Bong that means any potential expansion or retelling of Parasite is worthy of any movie or TV fan's interest. ­That is especially true because, if the adaptation proves to be anywhere near as successful as the movie, the leverage Bong will gain should allow him to make anything he desires for quite some time to come. In an era when original movies are an endangered species, that is something we should all be extremely grateful for.